Amazon.com, great pioneer of the digital book, declared that, starting from April 2011, electronic papers/hardback sales have overtaken the paper ones 105 to 100: small achievements, you will probably grin, but if it is not this that hints us the future evolution of multimedia, what else?
I will take it from far...
Nowadays, one's cultural baggage is discernible by the size of the bookcases available in their house - and obviously by the quality of the papers there stored -, but in the future? Sooner or later, like it or not, all this is going to change: all the contents we keep in a physical form, so CDs for music, DVDs for films and books for literary works, tomorrow will not be recorded on medias, but they will be much more ethereal and impalpable indeed.
It is a phenomenon which, after all, has started years ago and keeps evolving during time. Apple's iTunes Store has been, in 2003, the first attempt of music sales in a digital form, featured by a very positive feedback. In recent times, Amazon.com has taken and extended the idea in a significant way, offering not only music purchase under a download form, but also software, films and books. All the bought items were then to build a personal shelf which could be accessed from any location. Google as well, with its Google Music project, is testing its new music purchasing and selling service.
Do not imagine a future in which, instead of novels, our bookcases will be crammed with hard disks of huge amounts where all these digital contents will stay, it would not be of any use to anyone. What is more likely to happen is a turnaround: if today we are used to keeping terabytes and terabytes of data in our machines, in the future Internet connections will be fast enough to avoid contents local storage and shift the center of gravity towards streaming.
In plain terms: the facts that the holders which today keep contents will vanish, will lead the consumer to lose the property of these (contents). Bought a film, a novel or a musical track, in fact, the user will not take possession of the content, they will not be able to download it, but they will have to go and look for it in their digital shelf. We are practically talking of centralization: the vendors own the content and consumers refer to them to enjoy those contents. Not only the physical good is not owned anymore, but even the digital one is lost.
I have beaten around the bush far too much,
now getting nearer...
The result is that every device will evolve in mere interfaces to access the contents bought e will therefore be equipped with memories far smaller than the ones we are used today and with connections much faster. The drawback - surely appreciated by content industries - implies a drastic reduction of piracy (share a file which you own is easy, but if you do not have it things get much harder...).
And then, all the ones which were the physical shelves for books and disks vanish to become virtual. We will then have the novel shelf, the scientific texts one, the rock and pop music one, the action movies one... Like in real life, just... virtual, without space limitations and with the ability of search.
The soial backlash will be very violent. Besides Facebook (or whatever will take its place in 10 to 30 years), these digital shelves will become highly powerful means of knowing people: what better way to make up an idea about a person than to find out the books they have read, the music they listen to, the films they have seen..? Not everybody is allowed to enter others' bedrooms and lurk through the shelves, maybe even for an intimacy question, but talking about the net, at least nowadays, the key work is lightness.
Granting access to your own digital library seems far less important than it could seem, though it means to show other people your education and, by reflex, your own personality.
And here it is, the digital knowledge.