Sunday, September 5, 2010

Virtual Living - Changing the way we live?

Electronic devices such as the iPad may change the way we handle documents, books, photos, and more. Will this really change the way we live? Perhaps.

I just packed up all my photo albums in anticipation of moving. It is important, as I have noted, to clean up clutter from your home, if you plan on selling it, so that it looks larger and more generic. And things that you plan on packing anyway - such as photo albums - should be packed up, so when the time comes to move, it is one less thing to deal with.

I put all my photo albums into a plastic locker about four feet long by two feet by two feet. While I tried to, anyway. Some wouldn't fit. That is a LOT of space to take up with mementos and keepsakes! Heavy, too! I had to ask myself when the last time I looked at these photos was and whether I would ever look at them again.

I haven't created a photo album in years - maybe a decade. Well, I have, but not physically, but online, using Facebook or Webshots, or Snapfish, or other hosting sites. I also have GigaBytes of digital cameras on my computers. But physical photos? Taking up space? A thing of the past.

Similarly, I have loaded all my music onto my computers (29.5 days worth!) and onto my iPod. The clutter of the CD has left my live. No more storage shelves or "CD towers" in the living room. It is all on the computer.

And increasingly, I am reading magazines, articles, and other information online, rather than reading magazines and newspapers. Books are going electronic, slowly, but surely. Once the format wars are over, we will all be reading books on "readers" - probably in the next 5-10 years. Like the CD revolution, it will happen - and happen quickly and overnight. One day you'll wake up and the book store will go the way of the record store in the mall. Gone. One wonders how this will affect libraries.

Virtual living does have the potential to change the way we live - dramatically and permanently. It can result in a lot less physical clutter in your home. Paper records and forms will go the way of the vinyl record. Your taxes? Calculated online using "cloud" applications like and then paid online and debited electronically from your bank account. Bank Statements? Utility Bills? I stopped receiving those physically a long time ago - and so should you. You are at far more risk from paper documents floating around than from "some dadgum computer going haywire".

This form of virtual living means that you can travel anywhere and have access to everything. I can drive anywhere in the country and play all of my CDs on my iPod - without having to select which ones I want to hear before I leave and without carting crates of discs around. This means I can be more mobile without "leaving things behind". Similarly, all my books, notes, data, and financial information is portable as well. I don' t have to "wait until I get back home" to balance my bank accounts, pay my taxes, or do any one of a host of things.

It also means I can do my work anywhere - from the comfort of my home to the rim of the Grand Canyon. Having to "be" in a certain place to work is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

High School and College students will surely appreciate the new electronic living - and already are. The backpack full of textbooks will be replaced by a single reader - that displays text, downloads exams, takes notes - you name it. A college kid can move from semester to semester with little more than a suitcase. No more U-hauls needed to come home for the summer.

Now if all of this sounds like rosy scenarios to you, you are, of course, right. There are a lot of downsides to "digital living" these days, and one of them is the focus on the trivial, not the more important.

For example, texting and twittering tend to dominate the news, and for many people, this is their interaction with the rich electronic environment we live in. With the entire database of the world to mine, many folks are content to limit themselves to 255-character "tweets" or brief comments on facebook that amount to little more than 'Hey, howya doing?'.

There are always idiots. Look around you.

And the superficial news media will continue to trivialize the electronic age this way, trying to reduce consumer input to online "votes" or short text-messages. CNN doesn't want you to write long-form articles - that is their job. They want you to "comment" or "tweet" about what they are saying, so they can control the dialog.

As a result, many folks look at the Internet as something trivial or superficial, and not as a major force in our world. But so much of our lives in the next 5-10 years will change dramatically, and, I think, for the better, as the result of the virtualization of much of our daily business and personal transactions.

As for the photo albums, perhaps I should scan them in and upload them. They are, ironically, safer online than in an album, which will fade and crumble over time. In the virtual world, they may reside for decades, perhaps centuries - backed up on some obscure server somewhere.

Perhaps long after I am dead, some Internet Archeologist will dig up my photos and blog entries and wonder about life in a time long since past. There is a far greater chance of that, than someone finding my photos and letters in a box somewhere. Because once I am dead, most of that will undoubtedly end up in a landfill somewhere.