Monday, January 01, 2007

Techno Notice

Love it or loathe it, the internet is here to stay and is increasingly changing the way we work, relax, shop, communicate and generally live our lives. I have been an avid internet user since 1997, when I first discovered the joys of Netscape Navigator, the Yahoo search engine, and a UNIX based email system called PINE. The past decade has seen enormous advances in technology that has seen global internet usage grow beyond 1,000 million web users, with the focus no longer just being on information searching and email but a plethora of new web technologies (known as Web 2 technologies) including blogs, wikis, instant messengers (IMs) and the phenomenon of social networking.

In 2006 some of the most popular websites globally were: YouTube; MySpace; FaceBook; and Bebo. These type of sites allow users the opportunity to build their own web pages and add their own content including words, graphics, sounds, songs, and video clips. The success of these type of websites is down to a number of reasons, these include: simplicity of use - web sites becoming easier to use, with straightforward instructions for adding content; cost – it is quicker and much more cost effective to communicate and keep up to date via the internet (particularly the web and email / IMs) than via telephone or traditional mail; technological advancements - many people now have the ability to record their own sound and video clips from handheld devices such as mobile telephones; and a new generation of ICT literates - increased penetration of technology into the education curriculum means that younger people are becoming more competent with ICT.

Advancements in technology have signalled the death knell for a number of media formats, firstly vinyl and cassette tapes were almost made extinct by CDs, as was VHS to DVDs, but even these formats are now nearing the end of their shelf life with the media buying public increasingly turning towards the internet for legitimate or illegitimate music and video downloads. Gallup have finally cottoned on to this fact and as of 01/01/07 the UK music top 40 will now take into account all legitimate music downloads as well as shop-bought formats. Interestingly, this may mean that the Top 40 may in future include a number of oldies that suddenly become in demand as downloads – as well as B-sides. This will undoubtedly become apparent at the next major football tournament at which the England team play when ‘3 Lions’ will be in demand again.

Downloading media from the internet, isn’t just easy – because it can be done from the comfort of your own home, it is often cheaper than buying ‘hard copies’, and it can be much tidier than having to find even more shelf space for even more CDs. Mintel has predicted that in the future we will lead more minimalist lives with ‘losers’ in hard copy media sales. I can give a recent example of this from my own experiences. I own over 1,000 CDs – these are both albums and singles that spend 99.999% of their lives on shelves – unplayed. In fact I can’t actually remember the last time I sat down and listened to a CD – as I now much prefer being able to quickly and easily search the 16,000 MP3 tracks on my computers hard drive for the song I’m looking for and play it at CD quality through my stereo amplifier. Better still if I don’t know what I want to listen to, using either ‘iTunes’ or ‘Music Match Jukebox’ I have ‘the mother of all jukeboxes’ with over 30 days of continuous music to choose from – I can even carry my entire music collection around with me in my pocket courtesy of a 60Gb iPod which weighs little more than a mobile phone. This is the future, smaller, simpler, less clutter, and easier to find what you are looking for.

In terms of videos, I am currently in the process of ridding myself of over 200 bought VHS films which includes everything from ‘Romper Stomper’ to ‘Carry on Follow That Camel’. These take up some serious storage space – and I need that space back, but at the same time I don’t want to lose my films. The solution to this problem is called ‘eMule’ where I can easily download copies of the films that I already own (I’m not sure if that makes me a criminal or not) before packing the VHS tapes up into boxes and shipping them off to ‘Oxfam Books’ in Headingley, where they can be resold with the profits going to good causes. In fact Oxfam books has done very well out of my technological advances, as the majority of my CDs will also be heading their way, as I have now digitised all of them using a programme called ‘Audiograbber’. My Record collection (400 LPs, 200 12” singles, and 500 7” singles) will also be going the same way once I have turned all of my favourite tracks into MP3s courtesy of my Christmas present – an Ion USB Turntable – which using a programme called ‘Audacity’ can nicely and easily digitise records onto my computers hard drive (although this is going to take some time). Space wise I will eventually claim back an area the size of a double wardrobe – and replace it with a 500Gb hard drive which is about the size of two VHS tapes. Of course the risk in this (and there is always a risk) is that the hard drive goes kaput or is stolen and I lose everything – so just in case this does happen, I’m going to buy a second drive to back up my first drive, and then keep the second drive at my parents house…..just in case.

The only constant with technology is change, hopefully that means change for the better, which can have positive impacts upon us all – especially those amongst us who welcome it with open arms – and tidier shelves.

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