From the editor's desk: Where the funge is my token?

26 April 2022 News

Brett van den Bosch, Editor.

To set the scene, I first need to confess something. I do my best thinking in complete isolation, preferably with a window to see the world outside so I know it’s still there. I pace relentlessly, talk to myself, laugh at my own jokes and generally let my mind wander off to whatever places it wants to go – all to a heavy-metal soundtrack that tends toward the more extreme sub-genres. In short, I behave like a madman. Which is another compelling reason for the isolation: I don’t want anyone to ever see me doing that stuff, because straightjackets do not look comfy (although a padded room has a certain appeal).

And so it was that I found myself pacing past my CD rack, which stands beside my bookshelf and suddenly snapped back into the real world. They were covered in dust. Not just the CD rack and the bookshelf, but the CDs and books themselves. In a fit of nostalgia, I grabbed one of my old favourite CDs, put it in my hi-fi, hit play and… nothing. It seems the poor old machine has finally given up the ghost after many years of neglect. But holding that jewel case, looking at the cover artwork, seeing the glint off the disc’s still-pristine lasered surface and most of all, smelling that unmistakable scent of the liner-notes booklet, piqued my nostalgia and imagination enough to (eventually) get to the point; which is the extent to which technology has transformed the very nature of ownership and our understanding of it.

Spotify has replaced CDs as my default source of music, I watch Netflix and Amazon Prime instead of VHS or Blu-ray – and there’s just no going back. The convenience, variety and cost of what’s available now is leaps and bounds ahead of just 20 years ago, which is rather the point of digital technology. As a passionate consumer of electronics and enthusiast in modern technologies in general, I have embraced them fully and unreservedly. But I don’t love them. Not the way I used to love that new CD I had to save months’ worth of pocket money to buy and which still lives in my dusty CD rack (in its alphabetically correct place, naturally).

As an ‘electronics guy’, I know the only substantive change is the data medium – bits and bytes are just as real as solid objects, they’re just not tangible. You and I take that for granted, but it’s actually a profound paradigm shift for those who grew up in the analog era to wrap their heads around (as my grandmother would attest). No doubt 40 years from now I’ll look at what the kids are up to and wonder what the heck is going on and where on Earth did I leave my false teeth? There’s no telling where things like Facebook’s (now called ‘Meta’) metaverse, for example, will take us, but I for one am excited to find out.

There are caveats, though. Case in point: my colleague recently wanted to read an eBook he’d purchased years earlier, only to discover that he no longer had permission to access it as the publisher had changed, so he would have to buy it again if he wanted to read it. In a sense, he owned it (in that it was still linked to his profile) and didn’t own it at the same time – the Schrödinger’s cat of the book world, if you will. A similar scenario is conceivable if one were to irrevocably lose their password for an online platform. Assuming you had no other means of confirming your electronic identity, you would be disowned of all content purchased on that platform.

And don’t get me started on NFTs, I won’t even dignify their existence by spelling out their full name. When I read stories like someone splurging $650 000 on an NFT super-yacht for a video game that hadn’t even been released yet, I feel like puking in my recycle bin. I sure hope that person throws some parties to go down in legend on that thing and for his sake, hopefully not all by his lonesome. As for me, I’d rather have my cake and eat it, thank you.


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