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Don't Resist the Change

The compact disc as we know it was first sold in the US in 1983, over 20 years ago. And after all that time, the same old 74 minute, 16-bit, 44.1 khz sampling rate CD is still the most popular method of music delivery around the world. The competing Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio formats came out a couple of years ago and offered dramatically higher sound quality. I heard 'Dark Side of the Moon' on SA-CD and was floored. But, both formats are going nowhere fast.

This is because the powers that be are coming to the conclusion that it will be more profitable to distribute music files instead of packaged music. There's no box, no printing, no shipping, no manufacturing. The same thing is happening to DVDs. Video rental stores are dinosaur businesses. Now, the only reason that NetFlix, and music and video stores still exist is because there's not enough bandwidth available to deliver the amount of data encoded on a CD or DVD in an acceptable amount of time.

Since MP3s sound 'close enough' to what people are used to, can be downloaded in less than a minute, and stored in massive quantities on computer hard disks, they've proliferated as the initial format of choice for digital music distribution. But, they leave a lot to be desired, from this audiophile's point of view.

Now, imagine that it's a few years out, and there's just miles of bandwidth. Enough to download a full CD of high-quality audio in seconds, and store thousands of them on a hard disk, whether they're stored on your own PC or some servers you access via subscription. Enough bandwidth that any movie or TV show you ever wanted to see can be brought up and played at the press of a button. With the popularity of Tivo, 'Video On Demand' cable services, and the iPod, this scenario is already taking place, in a crude nascent form.

This is a pretty easy scenario to imagine. More bandwidth, more media consumption, fewer physical artifacts like spinning optical disks to collect and store. No surprises here.

It just goes to show you that people pretty easily accept paradigm shifts in their use of and relationship with technology -- it's the corporations that have trouble. Look at the Recording Industry suing 12 year old girls for downloading a Britney Spears single off of Napster. Now that's just low. Instead of immediately identifying the opportunity created by digital music file distribution, they clinged to their existing business model and fought tooth and nail to hurt consumers and protect what they see as their best interests.

So worldwide we have consumers that readily adopt new technology that can make their lives easier, more fun or more productive -- irrespective of the degree of change in usage behavior that's required. Files on a hard disk vs. CDs stored on a shelf represents a huge change. But it doesn't feel like much of a big deal from the consumer's point of view, because it's faster, cheaper and more convenient.

So when wearable displays become available to consumers, it's fair to assume that they will be adopted on a massive scale, despite the degree of change they represent in consumer behavior. Just like the guy on ZDNet said in his blog entry, "Now, imagine continuous, large-screen, wireless access to e-mail, IM, your files and Google--from a professional perspective, you'd be unstoppable."

New user-interface metaphors will need to be invented -- the 'desktop' with its folders and file cabinets is hopelessly antiquated and inadequate to provide meaningful interaction for users in a pervasive, wireless computing environment.

All this is to say that no matter how big a shift is required in the behavior of consumers, they will readily take up new technologies that make their lives easier and better. Over the next few years, wearable displays and augmented reality software will seem to come out of nowhere and will quickly reach mass adoption. Constant connectivity and internet availability will augment our capabilities as people and effectively make us more intelligent (or at least give us a whole lot more information!). There isn't a lot of resistance to change. Having leading edge technological capabilities is a status symbol.

Looking a few years further out, there will be some interesting implications of this tendency among people to quickly, and in massive numbers, bring new technologies into their lives. I'll share my thoughts on these implications in another post to come soon.


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