Is Everything Going to Be Digital Moving Forward?
It’s a common prospect to hear discussed – with so many things abandoning physical hardware and instead opting for a digital approach, it’s natural to wonder how far outwards this is going to go. Surely, there has to be some sort of limit? Well, with the availability of cloud technology, that might not be the case. Still, while change is often cause for discomfort, there might be plenty to look forward to as some things shift to digital – and there might be other areas where this simply isn’t feasible.
However, familiarizing yourself with the lay of the land can provide you with both comfort and clarity about the state of technology moving ahead.
A Clash of Worlds
One explanation as to how this might be shaping up looking ahead could be that digital means are simply going to allow for greater physical support in the future. After all, human beings are still living in the physical world, and factors in that world allow for life to exist as it does, meaning that a continued escalation of things becoming digital has to stop somewhere. In certain industries, this is something that can be seen very clearly already. The relationship between the physical and the digital is obvious with the 3D printer, for example. The software behind the machine allows the user to input exactly what they want to be printed, but that would not be of any use in the same way if it wasn’t able to bring that design into the physical world. Therefore, it could be argued that it’s less about one taking over from the other, and more about finding that perfect balance where each side is able to showcase its best strengths and provide as much use as possible. After all, it’s worth remembering that physical technology is also improving, far from being left behind in the dust.
There are other places where you can see this, even with technology that’s been present for quite some time now. Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are used in an enormous variety of industries, for a huge range of applications. The flexible nature of these applications means that they have to be designed differently, and with the onset and availability of PCB design software, it’s easier to do than ever before. This doesn’t completely change the way that people look at PCBs, as they’ve always been essential, but what it does do is provide greater customization and control over how you integrate them into what your business does.
The counterargument to this might be something like virtual reality (VR), which looks to take that shift much further toward the digital. As a novelty, it’s one thing, but as an integration into the workplace, through its use as a virtual meeting space, you can begin to see how this use might be extrapolated outwards. VR is a prime example of something that’s potentially seen as more digital than physical, but even then, it’s worth remembering that it’s not at all possible without the headset and all of the associated tools that are required for its use. While this middle ground might be more one way than the other, it’s still a combined effort.
The Entertainment Sector
Movies and TV
The big shift that arguably started this discussion in full swing as far as consumers are concerned may well have been the popularization of streaming services, such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. Prior to these, it was more normal to hear talk of physical box sets – with the change in technology largely seeing the way in which content was stored changing along with it. A prime example of this is the leap from VHS tapes to DVDs or from DVDs to Blu-ray. While it’s not like this process has disappeared entirely – 4K discs are arguably the step after Blu-ray, after all – it’s something that has received significantly less public attention since streaming services became the norm.
Initially, this change was something that was more targeted toward modes of watching terrestrial TV. While with typical TV viewing habits, you had to wait until what was on, streaming allowed you to choose what you wanted to watch from a library, providing a much more convenient service. However, as other companies caught onto the success of this business model, the landscape began to change. Over the years, several different companies launched their own services, meaning that the pool of available titles was split along dividing lines based on who owned the rights. To compensate for this, each company started putting a lot more money into making their own shows – something that Netflix has been doing since 2013 but can be seen snowballing into blockbuster entries in franchises, such as Amazon’s Rings of Power series.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, this was also a transition that could be seen with theatrically released movies. In lieu of cinemas being open to the public, streaming services would charge a premium to allow the viewer to watch a new movie from their own home. While it might be too early to tell whether this practice is going to be abandoned entirely, the box office success of post-pandemic movies like Spiderman: No Way Home, and Avatar: The Way of Water might be examples used to reinforce the theatrical release model for now. In this case, it might be that streaming services continue to rely on films and shows that they fund and release themselves, as many of these have large marketing campaigns and followings behind them.
Music has been in a comparatively odd position where it’s looked like it’s embraced the digital format before its peers in the entertainment industry. Devices like the iPod or the MP3 player originally allowed you to transfer files from the computer and onto them, often with help from software like iTunes. Therefore, it might come as no surprise to learn that this is very much a practice that has seen a lot of development and attention in the modern day. Just as with TV and movies, streaming is what’s captured the public interest, and through apps like Spotify or Amazon Music, it’s easier than ever to download the music that you want onto your device of choice from the cloud and listen wherever you are.
All that being said, does that mean that the days of CDs in the car are over? Well, they might still have their use here or there, but the focus is very much away from them in the same way they are for all types of disc-based media, save for gaming (more on that later). Instead, the main call for rejection against the sweeping digitization actually comes in the form of more specialized interest. An interest in music is something that can be drawn across several different dividing lines. However, while others might assert their own love of the medium by attending live music events, others might make it their goal to collect vinyl of albums and artists that they love. Being an older form of playing music and gaining more retroactive success in more recent times, vinyl records and the devices used to play them are often touted as offering a superior sound – potentially becoming something that bridges the gap between die-hard fans and more casual listeners. The large prints of album covers that can also provide aesthetic quality helps this to continue to live on as a viable alternative.
Gaming itself is something that was seen as a shake-up of the entertainment technology scene when it started gaining popularity in the 80s and 90s. Breakthrough titles and consoles would consistently rewrite what was possible when it comes to this landscape, so it should come as no surprise that it’s embracing the digital trend with open arms. This isn’t even anything so new. Digital storefronts have allowed gamers to buy and download games from their own living room for well over a decade, and the popular rise of online multiplayer games around 2010 lent a lot of credibility to how the internet could be incorporated into gaming.
Some games have taken this in directions that have proven controversial. Always-online DRM (digital rights management) requires the player to be permanently connected to the internet in order to access a game – even if they’ve already paid for it. It’s not hard to imagine why this could make things difficult for the player, especially if they live in an area without a strong internet connection. Other controversies include physical versions of games that are sold without an actual disc for you to insert into your console, replacing this with a download code that you use to get the game digitally. While less suffocating than the previous example, this is something that creates needless plastic waste, having ramifications outside of the gaming sphere – but potentially being seen as continuing due to the amount of money that collectors’ editions can sell for.
More recently, cloud gaming has entered the fray. This isn’t as controversial, in fact providing players with a more flexible approach toward how they play games. With cloud gaming, a title that you purchased but can’t necessarily run on the device that you have could still be playable – by streaming the game with services like GeForce Now. There are other applications here, but this can begin to give you some idea of what the future is looking like. Consoles like the PlayStation 5 launched with both a physical and digital edition, something that could indicate a greater preference for digital in the future. However, the presence of a physical version at all might throw some doubt toward that idea and instead indicate the preference of the greater audience.
Work, Education and Leisure
When talking about software that could be utilized in professional contexts, or products that are designed for entertainment, it’s easier to weigh up the pros and cons of what a more digital focus could offer. In those circumstances, the digital object in question is something to be used – a tool. What about, then, when your work goes digital? The coronavirus pandemic made this a reality for many people, and it revealed that the infrastructure is often in place for people to work from home. This is not an issue that comes without contention, however, and people might find themselves vehemently placed on one side or the other. While some might like the freedom that it offers them, and the control over their own workday, employers might not like the lack of control or structure that comes from a workplace. Video conferencing tools such as Zoom or cloud technology can allow people to work together more easily across these distances – and while the problem of internet connection might manifest itself, that’s something that could also wreak havoc if everyone was sat together in a more traditional work environment.
Throughout the pandemic, this is also something that was applied to leisure. Without any alternatives as far as seeing your friends went, you might have resorted to regular video calls to stay in touch. As touched on earlier, this is something that can quite easily provide the foundation of a social encounter, as it can in the case of online gaming with friends. That being said, you might have found that this didn’t have the longevity that in-person meetings had – though this is unlikely to be a prospect unless a similar situation occurs again.
How about education, though? That’s something that went in a similar direction throughout that time, with schools and universities switching to an online model. This is difficult to weigh up due to the subjective element; some will thrive in this environment while others struggle – this is the nature of different people learning in different ways. This is something that is distinct from the pandemic and its occurrence, though, with online universities being more cost-effective options for people to learn. Some might find this to be a more cost-effective and convenient model due to how they can structure it around their own life, while others will miss the element of socialization that comes along with it – especially if that was a driving factor of their interest in college.