Resist not the new

Mark my words: Pandora is the way of the future. I’m not making a prediction on the prospects of that company, mind you. I’m simply claiming that soon, all media will be web-based.

Resist not the new, as Emerson advised. If you open your mind, it will refine and raise your outlook on life on this planet. But there is a lot of resistance, and I personally get frustrated with those who retard the pace of the transition to digital culture. There is so much potential we have not unlocked.

Record companies know it, and they’re fighting it tooth and nail – but to no avail. Soon enough, someone, some band, somewhere, will come up with the “business model” that will take advantage of the web in ways the brick-and-mortar establishment has never dreamed of, and the traditional record company will be a thing of the past. It’s happening already. We all know it, we’ve all seen it, and I don’t feel like I even need to document that fact.

TV networks know it, too, and have embraced the Internet to a degree, at least to the point that they host exclusive content on their websites in conjunction with news reports and other programming. Of course, millions of bloggers, as well as sites like Alternet.org and the Indy Media network, have already changed the way we receive our news. But I think that, some time soon, the TV as we know it will be obsolete. Your computer’s monitor and your TV will be one and the same. You will tune in to websites, not TV stations; and when that becomes a widely accessible and accessed medium, there will be a drastic increase in the number of people making their own home-made programming and hosting it on their own television sites. Naturally, you’ll still get the corporate-made schlock; the corporate TV entities will, above all, find a way to continue making money. But imagine the possibilities of unlimited websites offering programming that is truly inspired, not market-tested into sterility. Personally, I don’t watch TV because there is very little on TV that I want to see. Star Trek fans have the same problem these days, and they’re using the Internet to remedy that situation.

The publishing industry is starting to feel the digital heat, too, and there is quite the debate going on about the future of books. On one side of the debate, you have those who are excited about the prospect of digitalizing all knowledge, likening a project to assemble an online “universal library” that is already underway to the great library at Alexandria. Others, like John Updike, see this as the lamentable death-knell for the world of books they cherish so deeply. But even if every book ever written is digitized and available for download or digital search, that doesn’t mean anyone has to stop buying and reading hardcopies. I have a hard time understanding Mr. Updike’s concern. Sure, the bookselling industry will have to readjust, and, regrettably, it will probably be the smaller, independent stores that bear the brunt of the readjustment. But I, for one, certainly won’t stop buying hardcopies – I love books and I love reading and collecting them. On the other hand, as a literary scholar, I look forward to the day that I can perform digital searches of any text I am interested in studying. The implications for the types of research that will be made possible are truly wondrous. It’s only a matter of time before new word-based art forms arise that make use of the Internet to create texts impossible with print and paper. So far, though, the best example of the formats the Internet makes possible is non-artistic: Wikipedia.com, perhaps the best, most thorough – and thoroughly fascinating – encyclopedia man has ever made (and people who claim the information on Wikipedia is not reliable are wrong).

The video gaming industry is the perfect example of why people are wrong to oppose web-based technologies rather than embracing them. Rather than fight or resist the Internet, video game companies rushed to embrace it – Origin put out the wildly successful title Ultima Online, an online addition to a long-running, single-player PC franchise, as early as 1997. Today, massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs as they’re now more commonly called, are the juggernaut of the video gaming industry. World of Warcraft has millions of subscribers. Single-player console games still do a respectable business, but the opportunity to play in an open-ended, persistent-state gameworld with any number of other people is an Internet promise fulfilled, and it has certainly paid off for Blizzard.

There’s no reason why the music, publishing, and TV programming industries can’t invent ways to capitalize on the technologies the web makes possible. Ironically, many of the companies who are putting up the fiercest fight against those new technologies are the ones with the most resources at their disposal with which they could be developing the newest blockbuster technology. Perhaps they are hoping that they can continue to squeeze every last drop out of their current business models while someone else develops the new technologies, which they will then swoop in and purchase. The music industry has certainly been doing just that – witness the fate of Napster, and the latest developments in the lawsuit against Kazaa. The recording industry has co-opted these sites rather than develop their own vehicle for online sales and marketing. Let’s hope this trend is soon reversed. We need more creativity and fresh ideas and less rear-guard maneuvering when it comes to embracing the future.

Which brings me back to Pandora. Not only are Pandora’s musical offerings far, far more diverse than any other single radio station, but they have established partnerships with the goal of integrating their Internet radio station into actual radios and other types of electronic devices. Just like your old TV, your old radio will soon be obsolete, thanks to the Internets.

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