When I was in college, moving into the dorms was an arduous ritual. First we’d set up our stereos. Of course they were enormous – mine was comprised of big JBL speakers, a separate Marantz amp and McIntosh pre-amp, a Pioneer turntable and Aiwa cassette deck. The system cost me an entire summer job’s pay and if I was paying by the pound it’s no wonder why it was so expensive.
I also had a couple of apple crates full of records (remember those?) and boxes of tapes.
Along with the stereo, I had a typewriter, an alarm clock, an SLR camera with lenses and a shoebox full of photos. I didn’t have a TV but my roommate did, and that took up even more room. My clothes — a few pair of jeans, some tee shirts, and a down jacket — probably took up the least amount of space.
Today’s college student has all those functions and data (music, photos, etc.) stuffed into their four-pound laptop. In fact, with a couple of duffel bags stuffed full of clothes and a laptop and cell phone tossed in a backpack, they’re ready for school.
Today I needed a storyboard drawn up for a commercial we just wrote. All the art directors in my office were busy so I went online, uploaded the rough sketches we’d drawn, and posted the assignment along with my budget, deadline, and specific requirements. Within hours I had estimates from artists in Georgia, Indonesia, Mumbai, and more places around the world.
The other day I wanted something changed on my blog site. I sent an email to Werner, my blog master in Germany, and showed him the change. It was 5 PM EST here at home so I figured I’d hear from Werner the next day, after all it was 11 PM there. Instead Werner responded right away and said he’d have the programmer make the change immediately. “Where’s the programmer?” I typed. I assumed he was somewhere in Eastern Europe or Asia. “Ohio,” Werner responded. “It’s only the afternoon there,” “he’ll do it right away.”
When I leave the office in the evening, sometimes I take my laptop, sometimes I take my iPad, and sometimes I don’t take anything at all. Of course we’ve got a computer at home and all of my company’s files are stored on the cloud so they’re accessible wherever I am. No more running back to the office in the middle of the night or on weekends to retrieve a document I need to work on. And even though I work most weekends, I can’t remember the last time I went into the office on a Saturday or Sunday even though that used to be a weekly occurrence. In fact, my wife and I just got back from a wonderful overseas vacation and you might have noticed that this blog went out on time just the same. Besides pre-scheduling the postings online, a Wi-Fi hookup was all I needed to keep everything running smoothly.
I just moved my enormous music collection from the hard drive in my office to ITunes Match, Apple’s cloud-based program. This way, no matter where I am, I have all my songs available. This comes in handy not just when I have a hankering to hear something specific but when we’re at band practice and someone wants to hear a particular version of a particular song. Of course, with most songs available on YouTube anyway, I can access them anywhere I can get a Wi-Fi or cellular signal. Needless to say, the stacks and stacks and stacks of CDs in my office and at home are just taking up space and collecting dust. If I knew someone who actually wanted a couple thousand rock, blues, and classical CDs, I’d burn them all and happily ship them off.
The more we interact with the mobile world, the less we need bricks and mortar. These days, BestBuy has become a showroom for Amazon and it’s not unusual to see customers in the aisle scanning SKU numbers into their smart phones to check for lower prices online. Online bill pay keeps us out of banks and post offices. Digital downloads to our iPads and Kindles keep us out of bookstores. NetFlix, iTunes, and peer-to-peer (P2P) networks such as Demonoid keep us out of movie theaters.
As I’ve asked here so many times before, WTF??!! (Where’s The Future?). Clearly, legions of old-school face-to-face (F2F) businesses are going to go the way of Borders, Circuit City, and more. But there’s another, less intuitive opportunity. The analog activities that can’t be replaced by digital experiences — gardening, sewing, participatory sports, acoustic music making, cooking, travel, and more — are going to see a startling resurgence. Sure, those activities will be enhanced by the online world — downloadable patterns for knitting or Web-enabled music lessons, for example. But as the world continues to move to a ubiquitous high-tech environment, high-touch will become all the more important and profitable.