Wednesday, 12 September 2007


On Monday, Vodafone announced its MusicStation service. Basically you can download as much music as you want for £1.99 a week to play on your phone. Because it is essentially a rental service, you can only play this downloaded music whilst you pay the weekly charge. Stop and the music stops too. Interestingly, Vodafone’s technology partner for this is the UK’s Omnifone where my old boss from my Hoskyns days – Jim Feeney – is Chairman. The FT headlined this as “Vodafone reveals its answer to the iPhone” but I have serious doubts.

If you come to my house, you will find floor to ceiling bookcases containing many photo albums. Not just mine but my parents who are no longer alive and their parents before them. However, you will notice that the carefully arranged albums end in 1999. From that point all our family photos are on our website with the high definition originals on my PC. These are backed up in several places. Even so I fear for their permanency.

1 – When I die or get old, who will pay for the website space and renew the URL?
2 – What happens when a new format comes along? I’ve already had that problem when I changed from Apple to PC in late 1990s. I have cherished VHS recordings but currently no VHS player connected to my new cinema system to play them.

The other thing you will notice in our house is the record collection. 750 CDs, 200 vinyl LPs and boxes and boxes of 45s. None of them have been played for years (other than once to transfer them all to my iPod/iTunes) But I OWN them and nobody can take them away. (Thinking about that a bit more it is not strictly true. I remember our music collection was the most fought over bit in my divorce 20+ years back!) Sure I have bought downloads from the iTunes store but I permanently own them too. Indeed, if I like what I’ve downloaded enough I often buy the CD!

Facebook is now the world’s biggest repository of digital photos. But let me tell you a salutary story. A young friend of ours was off travelling for the summer. He uploaded all his photos at every opportunity to Facebook and deleted them from his camera. Great! His parents could see where he was and what he was doing at every stop. When he returned he wanted to get prints of his photos not realising that Facebook stores only a very low definition version of his photos. He was gutted!

I’ve been writing Hotnews since 1996. Because it is totally “electronic” – there is no print version of Hotnews – and has changed “ownership” several times. All the archives have been lost. Personally I find that hugely frustrating as I rather like to refer to what I said in 1998 or, indeed, gauge the mood of the moment when reviewing a modern day event. (Eg what did I write when Misys acquired Medic back in 1997 that presaged so much difficulty for them in later years?)

My point in all this is that I fear that we have entered an age where we risk losing the permanent records of our lives that we actually all hold very dear. It is ironic that whilst electronic records are made of every detail of our lives none of them are really permanent. Our own grandchildren will very likely have little or no record of the truly personal bits of our existence.

That’s why I’ll never sign up to a rental music service and why, when I have a spare month, I’m going to make photo albums of the missing last eight years of my life.

1 comment:

AdrianR said...

So when were paper photos invented? Say turn of the last century and then say they died out in 2000, for the sake of round numbers. A hundred years of photos, across what proportion of the worlds population that have or had access to the facilities? How much history does this actally represent? Will it be viewed as a special period in 1000 years time, followed by the new dark ages of lost or unintelligable electronic media? Or will our capability to store electronically increase to the point that we can store so much we will be able to know much more about a person from their stored photos, wishlists, blogs, video diaries.

On storage, the move to digital may in fact result in more material being retained. Previous media formats such as your VHS effectively rely on the physical characteristics of the player and the durability of the media as the effort of copying and transcribing is too much for most people, whereas anyone setting up a new digital storage format can easily provide the ability to suck in mp3 or whatever went before.

So maybe your great great grandchildren won't just have a few old photos of you, they'll able to see your whole life in pictures, read your thoughts about what you saw, listen to the music as you listened to it and even, with a bit of processing and interpolation converse with a reconstructed virtual simalcrum of you based on everything you ever recorded.

Digital immortality?