Monday, March 31, 2008

Digital Delusions

Call me digitally dumb or digitally delusional.

It's just that keeping up with the constant flow of technological change usually results in me standing alone with a stupefied look on my face. I ponder on it, trying to maintain a useful footing in the digital world, but such footing always seems to be tentative.

I was reading about the federally mandated change to television broadcasting, which will bring about the end of analog television next February. The FCC has sold off the broadcast spectrum for analog now, for nearly 20 billion dollars. Some fear that the once-freely available signals have been gobbled up by telecom giants. Some folks are supposed to get vouchers to buy digital converters for their TV sets through a federal subsidy.

It just seems odd to me that the government is mandating a change which was already taking place and forced it to all change at a particular moment. Was that really necessary to push it along?

Only time can answer who will benefit the most and the best from the changes.

In my world, I confess to having cobbled together a variety of ill-fitting components to access the digital world. Old computers lay around like old transistor radios here. I'm on a mega-fast broadband internet access yet I use this keyboard designed for typewriters back in the 1800s. In the basement, hundreds of big, black, flat discs called LPs sit wondering where the heck the turntable went to. There is a cassette player in my truck which does not work anymore, and I have a portable CD player instead, which is an ungainly monster compared to the sleek and tiny iPods and MP3 players many others have instead.

In order to be current, it seems I should have one of those wee audio devices which can hold thousands of songs, and a plasma Hi-Def television with 5.1 digital sound, and a phone which can take still and moving images, store music, connect to the internet and text-messaging machine and I don't even know what else I am not doing. Should I be live-blogging my life via a Blackberry instead of sitting in front of a computer?

Do I want to actually take the time to reconfigure the old turntable and download LPs to a digital format to store in a wee audio device? Do I really want to transfer the music I own on CDs for wee audio device storage?

I've tried discerning if the sound quality of an MP3 file or a wav or a wmv, ogg, MP3Pro, AAC, AAIF, MPEG4 with that of what used to be called CD-quality and what was once available on on the old analog LP. My untrained ears do notice a loss of quality on the iPod and iPod-like wee audio devices, but who am I to question the Advance of Civilization?

Still, there are so many excellent new ways to live and communicate and even manufacture goods for the world to consume. A recent Wired article talks about the ability to create, manufacture and sell products in minutes, with companies like Ponoko, and on-demand manufacturing service. No factory need be built or contracted, just ship them a design for furniture or clothing and they create it only when they get an order for a product. But I cringe at using words like "instaprenuer".

And to dare mention my eccentric concerns makes me something of a fossil as I straddle the analog and the digital worlds. Some less tech-savvy folks might think me a wizard, other far more tech-savvy and affluent folks think me a caveman.

After all, I still read books. I barely can write useful code. The future may have no need for me whatsoever. The future is making itself.

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