All these will become just memories…

Thursday 30 June 2011, 5.43am HKT


FRIENDS AND I GOT TALKING about the world around us — and how things now just aren’t what they used to be. Or even meant to be. Change is good, or so the claim goes. In reality, change isn’t always for the better, at least not according to our experience anyway.

TEN THINGS THAT WILL DISAPPEAR IN OUR LIFETIME

1. Paper

Only 40 years left, if that long

Those of you who know me, know I’ve been in the printing business for quite some time. Ever since the computer came into (down?) our lives, we have been using more paper than ever year after year. Like petroleum, our planet has around 40 or 50 years of timber supply left (figures vary), which translates into just under 40 years of paper supply. The whole idea of electronic communication was to increase speed, increase convenience and reduce paper consumption. In fact we have seen exactly the reverse.

Paper prices have been rising for as long as I have been in the printing business. Paper prices SHOULD be rising because:

  1. paper demand is constantly rising, and
  2. paper supply is constantly dwindling because there are fewer and fewer trees.

For those not in the printing business, the cost of paper yesterday (28 June 2011) was:

  • A4 B-copy 80gsm sheets at €874.66 a metric tonne
  • Coated woodfree 100gsm reels at €718.02 a metric tonne
  • LWC (lightweight coated magazine paper) 60gsm offset reels at €686.83 a metric tonne

Just to give you an idea, the Waste Paper Composite Index for 29 June 2011 was up 0.09% to close at 38,828.25 points from seven days ago. Look at the chart and you’ll have an idea how paper prices are skyrocketing.

The index tracks the changing market prices in the paper recycling and recovered paper fibre markets. The index is derived from current spot market prices originating from the Inter-Continental Paper Exchange.

2. The post office

Even the postbox will die out

Imagine no post offices. Now recall those morons who prattle on about e-commerce (or whatever the hell they call it now), how people will click to buy the crap that they buy, and how the the future’s so bright for the logistics sector. Just who on schweet fancy earth is going to convey your parcels?

Post offices all over the world are in deep financial trouble, probably with little or no way to sustain their running over the long term. Email and couriers like FedEx and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive. Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills.

Of course, disappearing along with the post office will be the likes of the postman (AmE: mailman) plus a couple of postal-related jobs.

To give you an idea of the shape of things to come, I live in a downtown district that’s been without a post office for nearly three years. There has always been a major post office in my district for the past 100 years. In December last year, the government here deigned to open back a post office — a puny, abject little thing on the 11th floor of a commercial building, staffed by just three people — in a square mile that has the priciest commercial rental in the world. Imagine the prospects for a post office in a less-pricey, less-commercial district.

3. The cheque (AmE: check)

Those little pieces of paper with squiggly signatures that are supposed to be good as gold (until they bounce) have had a long history, but they’re going to be history themselves soon.

The United Kingdom already is laying the ground to do away with cheques by year 2018. Processing cheques costs the global financial system billions of dollars every year. Plastic cards, ATMs and online translations (like direct debit/credit) will eventually lead to the demise of the cheque.

The ever-increasing costs of paper and of security printing (the business I’m in) to manufacture cheques plays into the hands of the demise of the cheque, which in turn plays right into the death of the post office. If you’ve never received your bills by mail or paid them by mail, the cheque will die out for sure and the post office will absolutely go out of business.

4. The newspaper (including magazine)

Nobody reads the newspaper anymore. Even a stick-in-the-mud like me have stopped subscribing to a print edition delivered daily. The newspaper, which in my early years was the chief source of news (notwithstanding the TV and radio), looks set to go the way of the milkman and the laundryman.

Read the paper online, but get ready to pay for it. The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers has lead to newspapers and magazine publishers to form alliances. Smaller alliances are clumping together into bigger alliances. And these alliances are forming ventures Apple, Amazon and major mobile-phone networks to develop a model for paid subscription services. There is no need for censorship anymore: ‘they’ will make sure you can’t afford to have news.

5. The book

This, or the hard drive?

Those who spent their formative years in the age of books say they won’t ever give up the manual pleasure and feeling of solid assurance of flipping the pages of a real book. I was like that too. ‘Was’ being the operative term.

With virtually everything nowadays on CDs, DVDs and downloadable files, the book is on a path to death, albeit a very slow one.

As an avid music lover, I used to love my LPs and EPs, playing my 33s and 45s all the time. Then came the CD and I adored them as well. Since then, I changed my mind because I could get entire albums from the Intarwebz for half the price of buying a CD. To boot, plenty of prime-quality breakbeats and indie tunes for free.

The same thing is going to happen with books. Browse a bookstore online — maybe even read a preview chapter before buying. With e-readers and e-reader software (some for free), e-books cost half the price of a real book. And they don’t clog up your home.

Increasingly irrelevant

6. The landline telephone

This is an obvious one. How many of you DON’T have a mobile phone (AmE: cellphone)? Unless you make lots of local calls from home, the landline phone is fast outliving its usefulness and economic worth.

Most people keep a landline (or fixed-line) phone simply because they’ve always had it — at the expense of paying extra for that extra service. Mobile phone networks are increasingly allowing calls to/from the same network for free.

7. Music

Are you established? Then forget you!

The music industry is dying a slow death, but not before dragging a few innocent victims down the sinkhole with it.

It blames illegal downloading and CD piracy, but that ‘s not the full story. It’s the lack of innovative new music as much as the lack of innovative distribution for the music to reach people who would like to hear it. To cut a long story short, the problem with the music industry is one of greed and corruption.

The patently self-destructive behaviour of the record labels and radio conglomerates has caused over 40% of the music purchased today as ‘catalogue items’ — meaning music that the public is traditionally familiar with. Which means older, established artists. Which means mainstream. The same is true on the live concert circuit.

Question is, how do you get ‘established’ if you can’t get your music out to the wider public? How to you get your music out if you’re not ‘established’? The music companies more and more are relying on established artists, but the self-contradictory behaviour of the companies is inducing a lack of established artists.

You need to have your head examined immediately if your musical input (including news input) is chiefly from MSM (mainstream media).

8. Television

Might be a bit melodramatic to say TV will disappear. Fact is, revenues for TV networks around the world are down dramatically. One reason is the economy. Another, more important reason is that people are increasingly streaming TV and movies through their computers — and that takes a chunk out of the ad revenue for TV networks.

A TV aquarium has higher standards

Plus, people are playing games and doing loads of other stuff that normally take up the time for watching TV. Prime-time shows have sunken to new cultural, economic and ratings lows that are lower than the lowest common denominator. Commercials now run every 4½ minutes, thereby slicing up the show like a paper shredder and making the storyline virtually unintelligible.

Meanwhile, cable rates are skyrocketing — just so that we can have the privilege of enjoying a show without commercials. It’s high time for the cable companies to be put out of our misery.

How did we come to this sorry state? The TV networks suffer from the same malaise as the music industry: greed, corruption and self-destructive behaviour.

9. The ‘things’ that you own

We are fast losing control of our possessions. While many of our possessions will still be in our lives, most of our possessions will simply reside in ‘the cloud’ in the future.

Today, your pictures, your writings, your music, movies and documents are on your hard drive. Your software is on a CD, always ready for reinstallation use if need be.

All of that is changing. Apple, Microsoft and Google are putting out their latest ‘cloud services.’ That means that when you turn on your computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system. Look at Windows, Mac OSX and ChromeOS: they are pretty much lashed to the Internet and will be more so in the future.

The good news is that, when you click an icon, that will increasingly open something in the Internet cloud. Save something, and it will be saved to the cloud. In this virtual world, you can access your stuff from any laptop (or, increasingly, handheld device) anywhere across the globe.

The bad news is that you likely have to pay a monthly subscription fee to the cloud provider.

The other bad news is that all your stuff could — and can — disappear at any moment in a big Poof! Indeed, will you actually own any of this ‘stuff’ on the ‘cloud’? Will most things in our lives be disposable and whimsical?

It doesn’t inspire much confidence. Makes you want to run and hide in the closet, fish out that photo album, grab that book from the bookshelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.

10. Privacy

This is going to be a big one.

If there ever were a concept that we would look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy.

You know the gameplay: the more ‘they’ talk about privacy, the less privacy you’ll have. The more laws, the more lawlessness. Same difference.

We’ve lost privacy a long time ago. Streets and buildings are surveilled with closed-circuit cameras like a Las Vegas casino. Your phone and computer come with videocams as standard. The fifth-generation iPod nano released in 2009 had a built-in videocam. The latest iPod touch has a high-definition videocam — need I say more?

You surveil me, I surveil you. Spy vs. Spy, remember?

But you can be sure that you’ll be on the soggy end of the privacy game. It’s a question of resources — ‘they’ have more than you do. ‘They’ know who you are, where you are, 24/7, right down to the GPS coordinates and Google Street View. Buy something, and your purchasing habits are recorded into a million profiles — and the ads you’ll see on Facebook, Google, etc, will change to reflect those habits. To get you to buy something else. To keep buying. Again. And again. For as long as till death do us part. Then it’s your descendants’ turn to make your one final purchase: ordering your casket online.

There’s a sucker born every minute — and you’re being made into a sucker if you weren’t already born one.

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.

Images: Paper rolls via CPD ♦ WPCI chart via Paper Fiber Network ♦ Postbox by The Naked Listener’s Weblog ♦ Cheques via Leckpatrick Parish of Derry Diocese ♦ Newspapers via mrissues ♦ Books by Ian Britton (#1351-06-2) via FreeFoto.com ♦ Rotary phone via Inside SoCal ♦ Sheet music via Santa Monica College ♦ TV fishtank via Lolyland ♦ Things and Stuff shopfront via subzerofox ♦ ‘Privacy is not a crime’ tee via All Things SD

4 Responses to “All these will become just memories…”

  1. Guus said

    Agree with most of these. At 30 yrs old, hardly any of my friends has a landline. We would we, we had a mobile phone before we established a home…

    Like

    • Most people I know living abroad have nothing other than their mobile phones. (Only their parents’ homes have landlines.) Here in Hong Kong, most people still have landlines simply because all local calls are free. But the trend among consumers is to do away with the extra expense of having it.

      Like

  2. I have to agree with you and, to an extent, disagree with you too- although HK is certainly in a different place to Melbourne. Paper should be dispensed with as much as possible, most of it is wasted on junk mail and similar useless nonsense. There are other things that we can make paper from too. Printers might not like it but we all have to adapt or perish. I will be sad to see the Post Office go but I have to agree. I receive almost no mail at all and it is mostly advertising that I don’t even read. Cheques are long dead here. Banks will no longer sell you a bank cheque. There are still money orders but when the Post Office goes so does the Postal note- sad. I haven’t had a land line in twenty years- only mobiles.
    People will never give up hard copy books. I cannot get anyone that I know to switch (as I have) to reading e-books. Bookstores are dead but books will live on.
    Have we ever really had privacy? I’ve never been sure.
    Great Post man- thought provoking- inspiring.

    Like

    • Yes, I kind of agree and disagree with some of the points myself – the post is a distillation of our conversation.

      No more paper would be a calamity for printers, to be sure. But it would be an even bigger calamity if printers don’t do something constructive to save trees – it is in our best interest to keep trees going. It is also in our best interest to get our customers not to do wasteful printing, which, alas! falls on deaf customers’ ears.

      I rather fond of post offices, mainly because I actually use them. Not having my local post office for three years has been a tragedy and almighty inconvenience for businesses in my district.

      Cheques – don’t miss ’em. They’re largely irrelevant for most people, except for businesses.

      Money orders and postal orders – please, don’t get me started! I love ’em. They’re the best thing since sliced bread, in my opinion. In fact, back in the old days in the UK quite a lot of vendors outside of the UK accepted British postal orders as payment – which made things really simple and convenient for buying things by mail. Talk about global commerce. Okay, sometimes buyers get scammed, but the damage tends to be limited. Today, we can get royally screwed if our online payment accounts get hacked.

      Books – they will have to stay. Some people think books vs. e-books is an either/or situation. My take is, it IS possible to have it both ways. And why not?

      Like

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