That Synching Feeling

Film, Media, The Arts

The future isn’t what it used to be.

When the future was imagined on shows like ‘Tomorrow’s World’ or in speculative magazines, it always showed single systems that would change our lives. Nobody mentioned that these single systems would be subdivided into a complex maze of ringfenced copyright systems.

This morning my phone notified me that my partner’s best friend’s husband’s daughter’s birthday was coming up. It notified me on four different devices. I don’t know her. So I turned off my notifications and missed a meeting. This, I accept, is the price of working entirely online. You won’t find bits of paper in my gaff, thank you.

But you may find CDs again soon. I’m of a generation that still likes physical objects, so until recently I kept my books and movies in physical formats like CDs and DVDs and books. A book is a single-system device. You can read it, lend it and resell it. This upsets a lot of capitalists, so they looked for another way to introduce regular revenue streams by stealth.

Phone games are a good example of this; the Angry Birds franchise has now split into a dozen revenue streams that suck small amounts out of kids every time they want an upgrade. I thought I wouldn’t be susceptible to such obvious extortion, but then I was already involved.

I had quite a few books on my Kindle that I would never place on a shelf – the ephemeral stuff one might read on vacation and not wish to keep could remain as e-books, not paperbacks. Next I found the same things was happening with my music – I wasn’t keeping so many hard copies of albums I liked. And film companies are encouraging us to stream rather than own DVDs.

Which is where it all starts to go wrong. Yesterday I downloaded an album on Amazon and watched as it diverted to their Cloud, a system incompatible with iTunes. Which means I paid eight quid for an album I can’t upload. Worse, the European Cloud page that opens automatically from Amazon UK is, for some unearthly reason, in French – Amazon clearly assuming that Europe is one big country and it doesn’t matter whether you list tracks in German or Turkish. So I won’t be downloading music from Amazon anymore.

But it’s messier than that because iTunes is a/ more expensive and b/ more restrictive. Many of its albums cannot be downloaded track by track. The result? I’d rather pay extra for going back to a physical format that I can upload wherever I please. We’re seeing the storage of intangibles divided into separate incompatible brands, and very soon we’ll have to rent them year by year, or watch them vanish. Let’s not get into what happens when a company goes bust or loses its market share.

Maybe by continuing to stock physical formats, HMV will see a revival in fortunes.

8 comments on “That Synching Feeling”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    I buy a CD on Amazon and have it put in Cloud storage. Then later I download it to my computer and I get asked where it’s to be stored. I click on iTunes storage. Still later I sync my 180 iPod and bingo the Cloud download is on the iPad, in iTunes storage and still in the Cloud.
    However, my iTunes set up doesn’t speak French… unless I ask it to. Really no way for you to switch the European iTunes to English? Perhaps French is the default.
    Snowy. Snowy?

  2. RH says:


    Maybe the format thing is does it pass the ‘can i bothered’ test…? [And that’s if you’re even used to having physical formats] I know things ‘sound better’ on vinyl; I have some vinyl and a record player handy. Can i be bothered…? no, mostly not…

  3. Val says:

    iTunes stole back my copy of Living in the Material World. Now I restrict myself to free stuff from their Apps. All they care about is cheating on taxes.

  4. Cat Eldridge says:

    The decision on the need to buy a full album versus individual tracks is made by the content provider, not Apple. I’m just now starting the process of using iTunes Match to store my vast digital music collection in the cloud and it’s fascinating to see which albums have tracks that are not matched up to availinle iTunes tracks!

  5. John Howard says:

    I’m with you on the whole ‘lets put the ephemeral stuff on the kindle’ idea. I suppose that I just take that through all the media forms, films I might want to watch but not re-watch get computerised and the same with music, although being a bit of a hoarder even those don’t get erased. They find themselves on a portable hard disc, just in case. That little box saves on a hell of a lot of shelf space.
    I just think that whilst my feet may be paddling in the digital age for now, my head is still in my youth and so I still keep the physical purchases going of those things that really must be kept.

  6. snowy says:

    A Jeffrey Archer novel is a great addition to any bathroom, just tear out the number of pages you need, so absorbent and so cheap.

    The current paradigm is effectively a licensing system, where you pay them money and they permit access to a data file. They can revoke or vary your access at any time. And if you lose your licenses you lose your collection.

    [So don’t forget to backup your iTunes periodically, in case something goes wrong.]

  7. Dan Terrell says:

    I have read that Jeffrey Archer claims to rewrite each of his novels 6 times before believing it is finished. Haven’t read one, but are the last 5 just lost time?

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Read a comment about readers in India who would rather read Jeffrey Archer than even their own writers. So much for Marjory Allingham.

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