All Tangible Media Is Going Away – It’s Just A Matter Of Time


Things like print newspapers and compact discs were made obsolete years ago.  They are living artifactsDigital is the master copy – we’re only waiting for the divide to bridge.  It isn’t really an argument, you either can foresee the future where all information, content and forms of media are semantic, social, malleable, searchable entities or you can’t.  It may take time but there is no stopping this path, it’s one of the clearer long-term trends.

Evolution of mediums will not stop.  Consider where we were 10, 20, 100, or 500 years ago.  Is anything really static?  The rule we have seen to repeat itself is this:  a society undergoing technical progression dictates the inevitable rise and fall of mediums.  We have not yet seen this proven false.

  • Printing presses replaced scribes
  • Eventually the web will completely replace the paper part of newspapers as circulation decline picks up speed (the Audit Bureau of Circulations reports that total average daily circulation declined 7.1% in the October-March period from the same six months in 2007-2008.)
  • DVDs replaced VHS
  • Eventually personal storage will be 100% cloud based, replacing DVDs (have you tried Netflix through the web?  Makes the idea of walking into Blockbuster seem like something a caveman would do).
  • Land lines replaced the telegraph
  • Cell phones/VOIP will replace land lines (a majority of my peers don’t even have them now – in fact, the number of land lines has fallen somewhere between 4% and 6% in every year since 2000)
  • Faxes replaced letters
  • Email/scanners replaced faxes – (from “The Decline of Fax“:  For e-mail, the critical point was when it became easier to use and less expensive than faxing.  Think about how many things are already easier to use and less expensive than what we have now but are not yet ubiquitous.  Lots of changes are about to happen quickly.)
  • Tapes replaced vinyl
  • CDs replaced tapes
  • MP3s replaced CDs (if you don’t have an mp3 player in your car today, you will in the future:  CD sales are falling in double digit %’s every year:  18% in 2007 and 14% in 2008 and 12% in 2009).
  • Broadcast radio is vaporware altogether, the programming is nonsense except for NPR and the quality is painful.  Have you seen how many great Podcasts there are, 100% free, with no commercials?  Radio is obsolete today.

In all cases, digital technology is superior.  As much as I love my vinyl collection, I recognize it is a relic in a digital society.  At 27 by having a vinyl collection I’m a rarity amongst my peers.

So why is tangible media losing?  Many reasons:

Not natively social - it’s easy for me to share digital media with my network.  Mp3s are social –  I come up with excuses to share them here even though it’s a disconnect and some of you could care less.  I do this for one simple reason:  it’s easy.  The question isn’t why share, it’s why not?

Slow to distribute – The idea of news – or any information – being distributed on printed paper or other forms of tangible media is wasteful when we’re all connected.  The fact that it continues to exist shows you how much our society is made up of creatures of habit over logic.

No sources/linking – Information must be connected for it to be trustworthy.  And a source that isn’t linked back to a reference could still be fake.  Media is easily able to reference if it’s connected, which adds a new layer of accountability previously unavailable.  Future civilizations will find our referencing of facts as printed text quaint.

No community – why bother creating any type media in the first place if you’re not going to connect people and form a community surrounding it?  I think we can all agree – organizations (and individuals) with audiences win.

Difficult to put a face behind – it’s so much easier to put people behind digital media than tangible.  Think of your favorite blogs and the writer’s behind them.  Easy, right?  Now think of your favorite newspaper or magazine and try to think of your favorite writers there.  Exactly.

Not in the cloud – all of your media will one day be available anywhere, anytime.  You won’t even need your mp3 player in your car, your car will connect directly to a digital library you own that is cloud-based. We’re already doing that with text-based media – other forms will follow suit.  We’ve seen this to be true during the first wave of digital, (everything follows text) and it’s a future trend.

It’s impermanent – ever had a CD or DVD get scratched?  They are fragile forms of media not easily recovered.  Old magazines/newspapers are trash.  Digital media retains value and can live indefinitely.

No instantly-accessible archives – the fact that Magazines or newspapers can’t just link you to archived content within current content shows their age.  Analog media treats media as impermanent and unconnected.

Unsearchable – analog media is painful to search and invisible without arduous effort.  Digital media is visible forever, instantly – given infinite life by the engines.

I’m probably preaching to the choir, but just once more I’ll say it:  tangible media is nostalgic, but obsolete.  It’s just a matter of time.

image credit: Digital N via Shutterstock