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February 2006 Archives

The strange new economy

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People can download a CD-quality song for about 99 cents. And they do -- to such an extent that the music industry has been truly revitalized by this.

Knowing that, I find it amazing that people (the same people in many cases, I'm sure) will pay $2.50 or so to download an inferior-quality snippet of a song as a ring tone for their phone. When they tire of that ring tone (as they inevitably will), they'll go buy another. In many cases, too, they will lose those ring tones when they switch to a new phone -- and will buy them all over again.

Folks in the wireless biz I've talked to marvel at this, and shake their heads (all the way to the bank).
Consumer expectations can change almost daily. Mine do. As I boarded my flight from Toronto to Vancouver last Saturday, I looked expectantly (hopefully, eagerly, and, in the end, disappointedly) at the seatback in front of me. The last several flights I'd taken with Air Canada had tempted me with a piece of cardboard on the seatback promising great wonders - okay, moderate wonders in this day and age, but wonders nonetheless. Hallelujah, I said. I can't wait (and I still can't, notwithstanding what I'm about to say). Though I've never experienced Air Canada's personal video-on-demand VOD offering, and though I was previously reasonably content to watch video on the shared screens of the airplane -- or enjoy the personal-choice viewing experience offered by my the media potpourri stored on my laptop, my expectations had now been heightened - and came crashing down. Yet even as I contemplated what this new on-demand-video-meets-commuter/vacationer world might offer, I found myself already expecting further disappointment in the offering - without even experiencing it. Will it allow me to play the CDs, DVDs or MP3s I brought with me? I doubt it. Will it let me use it as a computer monitor for my laptop? (And would my laptop battery actually last long enough for that to matter, anyway, since there's no power outlet to be seen here in economy class - though maybe that comes with the VOD experience?)

And just what entertainment offering can I expect? Will it be the same selection that I see on long-haul flights today - just more of it? I've never been a fan of Friends, or a regular viewer of Will and Grace (except on airplanes, as it happens). And there are many movies I've only seen (and would only ever see) on airplanes - and some of those multiple times.

That day, I exalted once again to my wife the wonders of being able to check in for my flight before I left my house. I still love doing it - even though it's now against my better judgement. I once had to cancel a trip the night before an early morning departure but, being the early-adopter-with-all-its-perils consumer, I'd checked in 12 hours before the flight. Did you know that your options become severely limited once you've checked in - even if you haven't left home yet? Anyway, enough about my check-in highs and lows. Back to the personal media experience... as is often the case, my expectations as a consumer changed that day - and the disappointing reality is that I never got to enjoy an unjaded experience of the latest-and-greatest offering from the world of aviation because my expectations were given the opportunity to soar higher than the ability of the world around me to meet them. My reality will never catch up with my dreams.

Thankfully, I could take comfort in watching, on my trusty old laptop, the Hill Street Blues Season 1 DVD I brought with me. And 25 years after it came out I still believe this is the best TV series ever and it stands the test of time remarkably well.

On blogging

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So what is blogging really? Is it an irrelevant self-absorbed form of expressionism - akin to the common diary - but with an exhibitionistic aspect to it? Look!, we say. Here are my (possibly censored) inner-most thoughts on life, religion, society or why the Leafs suck this year? Or is it more than that? The answer probably exists on two levels - on the first, blogging has the potential to be a permanent, immutable representation of the thoughts of an individual or a generation or a society as a whole. Blogs may have the permanence of a hummingbird's wing-beat or the lasting impact of a trilobite fossil. Who knows? On the second level - blogging is an almost-mass-media way of publishing the worst possible mindless crap to a vast potential audience. Is this such crap? Perhaps -- you get to be the judge of that. Are the instant messaging conversations of teenagers, like, you know, any better or worse, or more or less deserving of a place in the vast permanent digital record than my contemporaneous thoughts?