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Thursday
Aug122010

The Times, They Are A-Changin' (Are You Paying Attention?)

Do you have a friend or relative who forwards you a dozen emails a day? Who sometimes even forwards you the same thing six weeks later? If so, you may have seen this one, but what's new here is that I've added a few of my own responses.

My parents are very judicious in what they forward to me. They only send what they think I'll recently be interested in, and such is the subject of this post. Below you will find one of the various memes traveling around the internet interspersed with my comment. The meme's content is in the quotation box, and my response follows.

I tried to find the original writer of this, but it's been repeated so many times on the internet, I'm not certain as to its origin. If you know who wrote this, send me an email at RMansfield@mac.com and I'll give proper credit to the writer.

The original title on the email reads "This is very interesting...and a little sad!" I do believe that it's interesting, but not all of it is all that sad to me.

Whether these changes are good or bad depends in part on how we adapt to them.  But, ready or not, here they come!

1.  The Post Office. Get ready to imagine a world without the post office.  They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term.  Email, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive.  Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills.


I doubt the post office is going completely away, but we may see five-day or even four-day service instead of the six-day delivery we are used to. The last sentence above is very true. Most of my mail is made up of bills, advertising circulars, and magazines (to add one item). With my iPad, I've already converted a couple of my subscriptions to electronic formats. The magazines that Kathy and I both read—Time, Christianity Today, Entertainment Weekly—will remain in physical form until a way is developed for us to share electronic versions between devices.

But back to the Post Office... More than Fed Ex and UPS, which is limited in what they're allowed to deliver to your door, the real threat to the future of the Post Office has been email. They say that the written letter is dead. But it doesn't have to be. Want to really impress someone? Write a handwritten letter or thank you note, and send it in the mail.

2.  The Check. Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with checks by 2018.  It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks.  Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check.  This plays right into the death of the post office.  If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would absolutely go out of business.


I pay as many of my bills electronically as I can. Saves postage costs (there goes the Post Office) and time. But we can't get rid of the check until all my bills take electronic payment. I can't pay my local water bill over the internet because their payment system is based on a 25-year-old DOS-based billing system! (West Shelby Water, are you reading this?)

Checks are still handy for other things, too, like when I owe my buddy $20 for some expense he covered for me. But that's only because it's more convenient to write him a check and make him go to the bank instead of going to the ATM myself. Speaking of which, we'll probably see physical cash disappear in our lifetime, too. I'm not so concerned really.

And speaking of checks, I realized not long ago that the only time I still use cursive handwriting was to sign my name and write the payment line on checks. So, I decided to quit cursive handwriting all together. I mean, what's the point? My handwriting is bad regardless, but I promise you that my print is easier to read than my cursive. I guess I'll keep cursive for my signature. But that's it.

3.  The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn't read the newspaper.  They certainly don't subscribe to a daily delivered print edition.  That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man.  As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it.  The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance. They have met with Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a model for paid subscription services.


Let's be honest, the newspaper is on life support because the traditional press has not kept up with the times. People don't sell their stuff in the classifieds anymore; they use craigslist and eBay. Further, the internet delivers the news almost immediately (and with services like Twitter, it's often literally in the immediate). By the time a newspaper story is written, printed, and delivered, it's not longer news.

And I've questioned why I still subscribe to certain magazines when they often deliver the same content for free on the web before it arrives to my door. And I'm not talking about breaking news stories, I'm referring to feature articles. In this regard, they're shooting themselves in the foot.

I do believe a free press is important. It's part of who we are as a democracy. But newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals need to rethink delivery. Printing on dead trees, paying for people to drive trucks, and paying for the trucks themselves is not an efficient use of the press' income anymore. I don't subscribe to the local Shelby County newspaper, The Sentinel News, anymore, but I'd be willing to subscribe again if it came "magically" to my iPad every morning at a price less than what they charge for a print subscription. It's basically their choice of getting some money from me or no money from me. It might be less money, but they could make that up by not having to pay for printing, vehicles and delivery.

4.  The Book. You say you will never give up the physical book that you hold in your hand and turn the literal pages.  I said the same thing about downloading music from iTunes.  I wanted my hard copy CD.  But I quickly changed my mind when I discovered that I could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music.  The same thing will happen with books.  You can browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you buy.  And the price is less than half that of a real book.  And think of the convenience!  Once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story, can't wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you're holding a gadget instead of a book.


I completely agree with the writer. My first electronic book came in the way of the Online Bible for DOS which an acquaintance gave me on multiple 5.25" floppy disks back in 1988. Over the last couple of decades, thanks to programs like Accordance, Logos, and Wordsearch, I've accumulated electronic books in the thousands. But I still held on to my physical books, also numbering in the thousands, with many titles duplicated in both physical and electronic form.

It took Apple's iPad to convince of what I can now say with no reservation: I absolutely don't care if I never buy another book in physical form. And since Logos has an iPad app and there's one in the works for Accordance, I've been pulling the physical duplicates from my shelves and have them stacked in my front room waiting to be catalogued and sold. Some books I'll never get rid of for sentimental and in some cases, practical reasons, but I'm definitely reducing all the "stuff" in my house.

I'm not knocking physical books, and I have no agenda to change your mind. It's strictly a personal decision. But carrying thousands of books on a device as small as the iPad as opposed to using up the entire guest bedroom to hoard my own personal library is a much better choice for me.

5.  The Land Line Telephone. Unless you have a large family and make a lot of local calls, you don't need it anymore.  Most people keep it simply because they're always had it.  But you are paying double charges for that extra service.  All the cell phone companies will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no charge against your minutes.


Absolutely agreed. I haven't had a landline since 2002. Why would I need it? Why do you need it?

6.  Music. This is one of the saddest parts of the change story.  The music industry is dying a slow death.  Not just because of illegal downloading.  It's the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it.  Greed and corruption is the problem.  The record labels and the radio conglomerates simply self-destruction.  Over 40% of the music purchased today is "catalog items," meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with.  The older established artists.  This is also true on the live concert circuit.  To explore this fascinating and disturbing topic further, check out the book, "Appetite for Self-Destruction" by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, "Before the Music Dies."


I guess I stopped listening to new music sometime after I graduated from college in 1990. Occasionally, I'll hear a musician I like and pick up something new, but for the most part, music is simply not part of my day. And when it is, I'm listening to something from decades past. My tastes definitely aren't mainstream, so I can't judge the quality of current pop music. Everyone believes the next generation's tastes and talent are not as good as their own.

Like the press, the music industry is also an example of an industry not keeping up with the times. I don't encourage breaking the law, but I do believe the laws concerning music sharing should be changed to accommodate the reality of how easy it is to share music electronically. Look, I want everyone to get paid their due, but we need a different paradigm for musicians to accomplish that.

I haven't read the books mentioned above, but I did read Michael Lewis' book Next: The Future Just Happened way back in 2001. In that book, Lewis discussed the idea of bands who simply give their music away and support themselves from fan support either through donations (We'll make our next album when we've raised enough money to cover costs), concerts, and selling of merchandise. Patron funding is actually how musicians supported themselves for millennia. Of course, it eliminates the need for middlemen, i. e. the record labels.

Well... good riddance.

7.  Television.  Revenues to the networks are down dramatically.  Not just because of the economy.  People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers.  And they're playing games and doing all lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching TV.  Prime time shows have degenerated down to lower than the lowest common denominator.  Cable rates are skyrocketing and commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds.  I say good riddance to most of it It's time for  the cable companies to be put out of our misery.  Let the people choose what they want to watch online and through Netflix.


Well, I'm not in disagreement, but I feel that I still watch too much television. And when I do watch, I've recorded it on my TiVo, and I fast forward through the commercials. That's not good for the networks that depend upon advertisers' dollars, but it saves me 15 minutes of every hour-long television show.

Further, I've become mistrustful of new television shows. With the immediate ratings expectations that networks have (Fox seems to be the worst), a show will get pulled for low numbers just as it gets interesting without resolving the conflict that was the basis of the show. These days, I'd rather wait and see if a new show is successful in the long run before investing my time end emotions into it. This is the kind of approach that Netflix was made for.

I don't know what the exact solution to this is for those who make television shows, but I do know that this is clearly yet another medium that hasn't kept up with changes in technology and lifestyle.

Plus, if television were to actually go away tomorrow (which it won't), we wouldn't get bored for lack of something to do. We're entertaining ourselves to death as it is.

8.  The "Things" That You Own. Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future.  They may simply reside in "the cloud."  Today your computer has a hard drive and you store your pictures, music, movies, and documents.  Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can always re-install it if need be.  But all of that is changing. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest "cloud services."  That means that when you turn on a computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system.  So, Windows, Google, and the Mac OS will be tied straight into the Internet.  If you click an icon, it will open something in the Internet cloud.  If you save something, it will be saved to the cloud.  And you may pay a monthly subscripti on fee to the cloud provider.

In this virtual world, you can access your music or your books, or your whatever from any laptop or handheld device.  That's the good news.  But, will you actually own any of this "stuff" or will it all be able to disappear at any moment in a big "Poof?"  Will most of the things in our lives be disposable and whimsical?  It makes you want to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, grab a book from the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.


Well, yes and no. First, the idea of a simple dumb terminal, connected to a larger network, has been around since the nineties, and technically even earlier. It's yet to be a complete reality for the majority of computer users. To me "the cloud" is great for backup and transfer, but I still prefer to keep actual copies of my files handy and easily accessible, regardless of whether or not I have a wireless connection or not.

Even at the most practical level, while WiFi access has become fairly commonplace, it's not completely ubiquitous yet. How many times have I gone to a coffee shop to do some work for a couple of hours, only to discover the wireless router is on the fritz, only after I've already ordered my coffee, pastry and had a seat? Too often. If I completely depended upon a cloud service like GoogleDocs and wanted to finish a half-written document, I'd either have to relocate or start over. No thanks. I'd rather have my files local, thank you. Oh, I know WiMAX, cellular internet service and similar technologies are supposed to be the answer. But all of them are either too expensive or not quite ready.

I moved ThisLamp to WordPress almost a year ago, a completely cloud-based website service. Yesterday, accidentally, I completely overwrote my previous post after I used a different device to attempt to compose a new post. Although I am partly to blame, this could not have happened with my previous method of blogging. Had it not been for an internet cache of the original post, it would have simply been lost. Therefore, I am seriously tempted to begin using a program like MarsEdit to compose local files that will then upload to WordPress on the internet.

One more example: a couple of weeks ago, in trying to test out the personal notes feature in Logos Bible software, a function that is primarily cloud-based, a number of the notes I created were corrupted during the synchronizing process to and from their servers to my computer That left me with the choice of either deleting them and forgetting about it or re-creating them. Now, granted, the Mac version of Logos is in beta, so I knew my risks, but beta or not, this shows the danger of not having complete control over local files as well as having good backups.

Of course, lack of backups is the real danger to the current "things" we own on our computers. The average computer user simply never backs up his or her files. How many friends have called me wanting to know what they can do to retrieve the years' worth of digital photos sitting on a dead hard drive. I even have one of those hard drives myself, although with just a few weeks' worth of un-backuped pictures, waiting for the day when I have an extra couple thousand dollars to pay a professional data retrieval company to get my pictures back.

I've learned the hard way. I backup my my main laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad multiple times a week and my primary backup is not kept in my home.

9.  Privacy. If there ever was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy.  That's gone.  It's been gone for a long time anyway.  There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into your computer and cell phone.  But you can be sure that 24/7 "They" know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View.  If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits.  And "They" will try to get you to buy something else.  Again and again!


Well, this is a double-edged sword, isn't it? While we might feel those cameras in public places are an invasion of our privacy, we certainly are glad for their presence if we've been robbed, assaulted, or wronged in any way. Cameras in public places come as a cost of our safety. If I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, they will never be used against me.

And while it might make me feel a bit squishy to know that Kroger is tracking my purchases when I use their discount card, I certainly like the discounts and the coupons they send me now and then based upon my shopping habits.

The real invasion of our privacy often comes at our own doing in this technological age. I finally embraced FaceBook, but I don't share my information with just anyone (including strangers, teenagers and children of friends who try to friend me). I don't post anything that a current or future employer might frown upon. I don't post anything that would shock my mother. I'm careful when installing new software to at least scan through the user agreement and not allow something to be added to the toolbar of my web browser (these little apps are often being used to track a user's movements). I don't add people to my Foursquare friends list whom I don't know because I don't want strangers tracking my movements. Yes, I sometimes rebroadcast these updates on Twitter (which is public), but I purposefully don't post all of them.

All we will have that can't be changed are Memories.


Well, yes and no, here, too, right? How often do I look at photographs from way back and wonder why I can no longer remember the names of some of those people or even wonder who they were and what I was doing in the picture? We're concerned about serious conditions such as Alzheimer's, but we continue to eat food cooked in aluminum and reheat the leftovers in plastic—neither of which are probably a good idea.

Look, things change. And it's not always clear cut as to whether it's for the good or bad. We think of our past as being a simpler time, but often we do that to the neglect of remembering how many conveniences we have now.

A service like Facebook, for instance, allows me to stay in at least minimal touch with a significant larger number of my graduating high school class than my parents could have at my age. Are those "friendships" as relevant as the relationships I have right now in my immediate community of work, neighborhood, and church? Probably not, but I'm glad I have them anyway.

When I can play Words with Friends with an old classmate I've known since the second grade, but haven't seen in two decades in person, I still prefer that connection over playing with a stranger. And I'd rather have that than no contact at all.

Yes, I run the risk of legacy file formats twenty years from now for eBooks I buy today, but I also know of people who have lost hundreds of books from fire and flood. I'm willing to take the risk on the technology and hope that with millions of us making the same choice, there will be enough momentum to ensure we can still access them years down the road.

Here's a new question for all of us to face: Can I leave my virtual properties to a family member or friend when I pass on? This will be the next question (among many) to answer in our changing and increasingly technological world.

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Reader Comments (13)

For the last point, maybe it will be that memories become valuable again. And we do more to enjoy time with one another, instead of having logistical and social habits like "tv time" or "paying the bills call" to take up those moments. Change is here if you've been living in this side of the world.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAntoine RJ Wright

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by R. Mansfield, Antoine RJ Wright. Antoine RJ Wright said: RT @thislamp: New Post on This Lamp: "The Times, They Are A-Changin' (Are You Paying Attention?)" http://thislamp.com/?p=1004 [...]

The cost of unlimited calling plans with cell phones is getting closer to the unlimited long distance plans with landlines, but it's still about a $50-75 different, depending on phones and features. I think within 3-5 years, that cost differential will be gone and most cell phone plans will be unlimited voice calling for around the same price as landlines now.

The one concern I have with eBooks is resale. I don't sell a ton of used books, but it is nice to be able to unload them once in a while. It's also going to be difficult, if not impossible, to buy a used eBook for cheap.

Overall, though, I agree with your comments. The world is changing. I haven't paid a bill by mail with check since, well, I can't remember the last time. My bank bill-pay sends checks for me for free to any vendors that don't take electronic payment, so why should I bother?

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobb

Yes, clearly the combined iPhone bill for both Kathy and me is our highest utility bill. But I guess I was thinking in terms of having both. Why would I want a cell phone AND a landline?
__________________________

eBooks clearly kill the resell market. Even if a solution is found, I doubt it will be an easy one. Publishers and campus bookstores should be thrilled. The local used book store, not so much.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

Books, Rick? Books??? Like Bibles?

You'll have to buy a leather cover for your little reader gadget! Can't give up the leather, don't you know?

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGary Zimmerli

Very interesting post.

My first electronic book came in the way of the Online Bible for DOS which an acquaintance gave me on multiple 5.25″ floppy disks back in 1988.

That brings back memories. I still had some of those disks until recently.

Problem with cell phone is I don't have or need one. And if it's being charged and I can't use it and have an emergency, I can't call 911. Same with VOIP if the net connection is down.

I like watching the occasional TV show on the laptop because it's HD and we don't have an HD TV (just a CRT). I would love a la carte cable or dish but they're never going to do that. Our DVR just went caput and even though I lost some valuable saved shows, I can catch up with ones like Last Comic Standing.

I would LOVE a media computer but I think it's a little too difficult still.

Fun to ramble about tech. I'm glad you switched to WP.
Jeff

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScripture Zealot

Whoa, settle down there, boy.

First, as I wrote the other day - http://thislamp.com/?p=918 - I still use a physical Bible publicly.

Second, I'm not getting rid of all my books, just trying to weed out the duplicates by selling the physical books if I already have them electronically. Exceptions: biblical and other ancient texts, including translations; Greek and Hebrew grammars (because the layouts in software don't always look the same in my experience), books with sentimental value.

Third, moving forward, if I want to buy a book and I have a choice of electronic vs. physical, I am going with the electronic book--in general.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

But was there a need for a resale market before books? One of the things that I read very often, not here, is that the digitization of many industries is taking away ripple industries like the used book market. If books were priced more inline with our perceived value, reselling them would not be something so easily given away. As much as having reams and shelves of books is a status symbol in intellectual and economic circles, i wondser if the digital move to books is more exposing that we don't want to let go of perceived status (and in the same account, percieved affluence) for a life that has to reflect more of the fact that we interacted with the content. In a sense, getting rid of the covers so that we can see the real effect of the content of the books we love.

Just a wonder...

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAntoine RJ Wright

Well, the meme is terribly unoriginal (if it were hypothesized in 1990, it might have been original) -- and likely exaggerated to boot.

After all, today, in 2010, we still have LP vinyl records, film cameras, vacuum tube-based audio amplifiers, straight razors and strops, bowties, dip pens, and even typewriters. (And yes, you can buy all of these on Amazon to boot!)

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

And, for your amusement -- and a reminder of Yogi Berra's "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future", please consider http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-18438_7-10288870-82.html" rel="nofollow">the decade's 30 biggest tech flops. Notable entries: the Segway, HD Radio, Apple TV, HD DVD, etc.

Indeed, even today, most watches sold are not digital. Blu-Ray sales are disappointing. And we don't need to look very hard to find examples of highly-hyped technologies that seem almost certain to fail (I'm thinking about 3D Blu-Ray and 3D TV.)

August 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

A couple of mildly contrarian points.

1. The Post Office has been teetering on the edge of insolvency for more than a century, except in the rare periods when we've had exceptionally good postmasters-general like Marvin Runyon. Sure, email is a challenge - FedEx and UPS really aren't - but the USPS is in fiscal crisis because federal law all but requires the USPS to operate at the very edge of solvency. If it were a private business, USPS would cease home delivery to broad swaths of the country and push rates much closer to a dollar for first-class postage, and it would make healthy profits even while chasing a smaller market.

2. "The newspaper" is not dying. One particular model of newspaper publishing is dying: the publicly traded major daily newspaper. Most newspapers in America are doing just fine. Your typical small-town or suburban daily is in perfectly healthy shape. Papers that report truly local news - papers that attend suburban city council hearings and cover high-school football games and so forth - occupy a niche not only unfilled but to date unfillable by online amateurs, and so provide content people are willing to pay for. And most such papers are privately owned, so their corporate structure can accept stable profits. In the world of publicly traded companies, you're better off losing money but growing revenue and market, which in the long term is a recipe for bankruptcy. Private ownership can accept, and often prefers, predictable profit-making to revenue or market growth. Papers that are very local and privately held are generally quite healthy despite all the doom and gloom one hears about major papers like the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, etc.

3. Similarly with the music industry. The music industry is not dying; one particular business model is dying. Well, is in fact already dead. But for musicians, this is something of a liberation. Musicians have more access to wider audiences now than anytime in history, and the financial rewards of musicianship are more and more accruing to artists themselves rather than to middleman "music industry" corporations. Since the 20th century music industry had already offloaded most of the financial risk onto artists, musicians are seeing greater opportunities for reward with relatively little increase in financial risk.

4. On checks, this is probably true up to a point. I've been over to the future, and it works. From 2003-2005, I lived in the Netherlands, where what Americans think of as checks basically don't exist. However, in order to accomplish the equivalent of paying a friend $20 for that restaurant bill he covered, you still have to hand him a slip of paper with numbers written on it. Not a check as Americans know it, but still, there's a slip of paper, there's a set of numbers, and those numbers on that paper are what facilitate the transfer of money from your account to his without the use of currency or specie. At some level, the act of writing numbers on paper will continue to be a necessary part of the financial system forever - after all, the numbers-on-paper funds transfer predated currency, so it makes sense that it will outlive it. And despite perpetual claims dating to the 1930s that computerization will reduce the need for and production of paper documents, the reverse has been the case at every step. I see no reason to believe that money will be the first and only exception to this pattern, even if particular financial instruments like checks and currency do become obsolete.

August 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott

This was very interesting. To answer your question, I keep both my cell phone and a landline because I have a small child. In the event I need to call 911, I don't want to have rummage around in my purse to find my cell. I also have babysitters at my home and I don't want to have to rely on cell coverage (which is still spotty at my house) to be able to contact my child and her caregiver. I can see how other families would not need a landline, but I still think it is a necessity for my family.

August 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

All I know is this....I am back in college learning a new discipline. Three of my four classes are all on-line and all internet centered....a far cry from my original college days (I can't believe how many trees we killed back then printing syllabi and writing papers!). It is a real eye-opener for me. It feels like a totally self-taught degree plan....but if I at least didn't know the little I do about navigating in the virtual world, I would be completely lost in these courses....

August 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Skaggs

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