Sunday, August 9, 2009

Get Ready for the Tangible Backlash - Part I

The commercially available and massively usable Internet now touches nearly every facet of life. In less than twenty years of rapid expansion, widespread digital communication has completely redefined what constitutes as real - in terms of relationships, content, and value. Today we are faced with the prospect of the massive digitization of products, services, and basic human norms that seemed untouchable only a decade ago - e.g. the newspaper, the doctor, the marriage.

The Internet has forced a fundamental societal change. As with any radical cultural revolution, a backlash is inevitable. I believe that we are on the precipice of such a backlash. It will be manifested by the extreme emotional need for the tangible - either through real items or through face-to-face human interaction. The sales of vinyl records will continue to rise. The proliferation non-Twitter gatherings will continue to gain popularity.

This backlash is caused by a nostalgic need for the familiar reality of the past, by the evolutionary human connection to tangible tools, and by the beneficial nature of scarcity.

Real things evoke emotions of "simpler times," of childhood, and of control. This control stems from the physical constraints of real things - these real items and interactions can't be shared on Facebook or retweeted a hundred times. The touch and feel of human interaction cannot be quickly forgotten or digitally reconstructed.

For thousands of years, human beings have utilized physical tools to maintain our existence and improve our environment. The basic paradigms and supporting mechanisms are genetically encoded in our being. It will take a long time for human beings to anatomically embrace the reality of potentially ubiquitous digitization.

Finally, scarcity is much more easily created, maintained, and excused through the existence of tangible products. This is why gold or silver decorations are infinitely more expensive than digital decorations. Scarcity drives many basic economic principles. But scarcity can't be easily replicated in the digital domain - those who benefit from scarcity will continue to foster its existence.
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