Tech and Culture

From Subscribing To Renting

The other day, V went looking for an older movie to watch with her friend, and asked me to help out. Now, we don’t subscribe to any streaming services (barely have enough time to commit to watching series), and while we do have a family TV+ subscription, it currently does not offer a movie selection.

I searched on the iTunes Store, and of course, the movie was available to rent as well as ‘buy’. It was also available as a streaming option on an MGM subscription service that was only available in the US.

The price to rent — €3.

That immediately took me back to the days of renting VHS tapes every weekend. It’s not that there was a lack of quality viewable content then, but the renting was almost always a family affair and a special event. The transition away from VHS to DVDs only exchanged one physical medium with another, but not the ritual. We continued to rent sparingly and wisely, to account for the convenience and choice of one and all.

This was also when families usually had one common television and, rarely, a second smaller television that was usually not fully utilized. Contrast this with today, when family members of all ages walk around with a video display at all times. Watching video or movies doesn’t need to be a family affair at all.

While this has given us the option to watch what we want, when we want, individualized video consumption has taken away the fun aspects of the planning, the anticipation, and the pre and post discussions that resulted from a choice of what to rent to watch. Surely, that time has to be used somehow; what better way than to watch something else.

With reduced attention spans, increased consumption, and greater production budgets, there is just not enough time to actually plan and enjoy content. Rather, we binge-watch, which is quite an apt metaphor, as consuming video content today is not at all different from subscribing to your addiction fix.

The companies that provide this endless stream of personalized content spell it out bluntly and plainly, like Netflix telling us that its biggest competitor is actually sleep.

My small experience in finding a digital rental for a movie made me wonder — what if this became the norm again? What if we stopped subscribing and instead started curating what we pulled in to watch? What if we went back to dedicating time-slots to watch series episodes and movies together.

You could immediately start to imagine the ramifications. There would be more debates, more discussions, perhaps more sharing of lessons or personal decision-frameworks, and overall, more time spent together. Is going back to renting video content such a bad idea?

The one major change in today’s digital setup is that you no longer need to buy a physical copy if you like something so much that you’d want to re-watch it. You could always rent it again. Sure, there are options to buy a digital copy, but while you could ‘purchase’ DRM-free music today, it’s not easy, or even possible in a lot of cases, to do that for video content, especially movies. I put ‘purchase’ in quotations because you only ever buy a license to watch content on a specific type of video player, and that license is malleable and volatile, and the content could also just disappear from your digital shelf.

Whereas back in the day, new releases would have extremely limited rental copies and long wait-times to get a hold of a copy, digital distribution has no such limits. Rent early, rent often. It saves you quality time otherwise spent enjoying leisure individually, and arguably even saves you money as you spend it only on titles that really excite your whole family or group of friends.

Now that we are approaching Web3, perhaps we would soon have a digital version of the neighborhood video rental store that also sells digital copies of content that you could hold onto for life or even rent out to your friends.


Economy Politics

Globalization, A Short Take

This might very well turn out to be a sequence of posts. The topic is curious in nature and one that has been generating headlines for at least the past year, ridden with the impact of the pandemic on global supply chains and incomes.

Yes, I am talking about ‘globalization’.

According to Wikipedia, globalization

is the process of interaction and integration among people, companies, and governments worldwide. Globalization has accelerated since the 18th century due to advances in transportation and communication technology. This increase in global interactions has caused a growth in international trade and the exchange of ideas and culture.

That globalization has made the world smaller and advanced trade so far is not a debate. In the recent months, though, globalization has been buffeted by strong pandemic level winds that have stopped all but essential travel and ‘integration among people’.

On top of that, there has been a race towards reopening the local economy, at the cost of borrowing from future generations, playing havoc with all kinds of monetary and fiscal best practices, and making arbitrary political decisions on what/who receives taxpayer support and what doesn’t.

Two things have played out — the pace of vaccine research has accelerated, and, demand for technology products that enable people to work remotely and do business has skyrocketed. The latter of these has also been exacerbated by geopolitical arguments about maintaining ‘technology lead’ that were born much before the pandemic struck, under the guise of advancing 5G networks and to curtail oppressive regimes by imposing international sanctions. Some of the world’s biggest economies had already begun a trade war by imposing tariffs on international trade in order to ‘level the playing field’.

Globalization also makes markets more dynamic; prices are more aligned with demand and value. At the same time, it’s capitalism at its best — you get what you pay for.

In theory.

When I read news about countries planning to impose barriers to vaccine exports or companies prioritizing semiconductor fabrication for industries that are more lucrative, it quickly becomes apparent that so much of our future has been held captive to the promise of a world that follows rules. No one does.

Countries are now realizing the value of having their supply chains more integrated within their geographical barriers. The vaccines, although researched by companies and individuals globally, are manufactured at specific locations, and if it’s unable to be exported because the country deems it more important to immunize their own population first, all contracts are rendered worthless. In the chip fabrication industry, there is such a shortage of microprocessors that companies have entirely stopped assembling some models of cars. This has a much bigger impact in countries like Germany that manufacture a lot of great cars but have no global leadership in semiconductor design and fabrication.

For the longest time, the mantra at schools was ‘think global, act local’. Perhaps it is now time to put it in action.

Politics Tech and Culture

A Technology Proposal for Amsterdam’s New 1.5m Society

The city of Amsterdam recently invited (archive) proposals from residents and companies to help it plan the path ahead in the new normal — a 1.5m society. The goal was to invite creative ideas to help businesses deal with the changes while making sure that they stay in business. The odd thing about pitching ideas is that we’re in an unprecedented situation — there’s no collection of best practices or historical lessons that could be tweaked and turned into something applicable for the modern world.

At the same time, while many ideas would possibly revolve around an app for this, or an app for that, a delivery platform, or a new social networking app for business, I am not sure that’s the right way forward. Not after all the inequities proliferated by ‘big-tech’ in the last decade. The last thing anyone wants is one corporation being the gatekeeper of all physical commerce.

So, is the solution to instead trust the Government? I think, fundamentally, smaller government at the city level is a lot more trustworthy than national policy making. We do, after all, depend on the city to read our grievances when it comes to parking spaces or for sanitation of waste collection. Amsterdam is in a unique situation where it has a woman mayor and where a lot of the infrastructure surrounding business activities is already digitalized.

The proposal I submitted is below. I am not uniquely qualified or even have the organizational structure to action on it, but I do believe that something like this is the way forward in the near short term without succumbing to mission creep.

PS: I know there are grammatical errors :o) I typed it up at the last minute this morning.