As technology embraces the digital, abandoning the crude and primitive notion of "physical existence" entirely, the idea that you actually own the media you buy is vanishing faster than that goddamn Walkman you swore was in the closet. And it's more than inconvenient for consumers; it may be apocalyptic for our society. Here's why ...
Martin Cvetkovic / iStock
If you tried to purchase an Adobe product recently, you're already aware of this trend. As of 2013, you can no longer buy programs such as Photoshop, Flash, or Dreamweaver. You can only "subscribe" to them for a monthly fee. Yes, now you have the privilege of paying for your software forever. Isn't the future wonderful?
... for Adobe stockholders?
It's like choosing apartment living because the government demolished all the houses and banned building new ones.
And this is not confined to niche software. Everything is embracing the "You're just renting it" philosophy. Imagine you come home from work one day and go to flip open the erotic thriller you've been reading -- the one about the time traveler who journeys back to the Cretaceous period to be with the dinosaur he loves. But when you sit down to delve back into Tyrannosaurus Sex: You Don't Need Long Arms To Fingerbang, you find the book has vanished from your Kindle. That can, and has, happened. And what's more, it's completely legal.
And now you're stuck having to read about pterodactyls, like some kind of asshole.
In 2009, after a rights dispute with a publisher, Amazon remotely erased all copies of an e-book from the Kindles of everyone who had ever purchased it. That book? George Orwell's 1984. Somewhere, the abstract concept of irony had the most powerful orgasm of its life.
"Big Brother is lol-ing."
If an eccentric billionaire and a professional wrestler -- like, say, Elon Musk and the Iron Sheik -- team up to put Adobe out of business next week, all of their programs may up and switch off. We don't mean that they'll stop offering patches and updates; we mean that one day, you'll try to open Photoshop and be met with cold, indifferent silence. The product ceased to exist as soon as the company that sold it to you did. The fate of the things you "own" are now directly tied to the fates of the company that makes them. So you better hope they're around forever.
Gamers are already painfully aware of this. Many video games now require you to stay connected to the company's server to play, even in single-player mode. If the server goes down or gets overwhelmed, you can't keep playing -- you have to switch to Solitaire. At least, until Solitaire moves to a subscription model. Then it's back to good ol' masturbation for you.
And when the company decides, after a few years, to switch off their servers, that game is gone forever. It's happening already. When GameSpy's servers shut down in 2014, players of Crysis, Battlefield 1942, and the original Halo were left with a crippled playing experience. And they got off lucky. Fans of Darkspore were screwed in March of this year, when EA straight up turned the game off. Your video games now have an expiration date, like Spam. Or wait, like anything except Spam.
A company called Revolv released a full home automation system that allowed the user to put all of their home functions on a timer. You came home from work, and the security systems would automatically shut off, the thermostat would go higher, and the lights and television would switch on, all without you having to so much as press a button. Finally, the hardest part of your day gone! It took smart technology to a whole new level, and enabled you to run your entire home with a single device the size of a hockey puck, like a hopefully less-evil version of Dream House.
We use the past tense because in 2014, Google acquired Revolv and announced that they'd be shutting down its servers. And by "announced," we mean they put up a note about it on their website. They didn't contact customers to let them know that they were going to brick their entire house. Oops, were you not aware that you were now renting the ability to turn on your lights and unlock your door?
AntonioGuillem / iStock
You know the one thing we've been getting progressively worse at since the beginning of civilization? Data storage. We're still digging up readable clay tablets from thousands of years ago. Then we switched to paper, which naturally decays. We only find paper records if they were meticulously prepped and stored for centuries. Now we're digitizing everything, and history itself is in danger of obsolescence every time we switch formats.
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin / The British Museum
Aliens of the future will think society began with the Babylonians and then just kinda stayed there.
Over the last century, the preservation of movies has become an increasingly difficult task, because we keep inventing new methods to preserve films that are not backwards compatible with the old ones. Pissed off that your PlayStation 4 can't play PlayStation 3 games? (Well, not unless you sign up for PS Now, the service that rents you the ability to play old games!) That same concept applies to all of media preservation. Every five years or so, the film industry adopts a new standard, leaving archivists to transfer every movie that humans have ever made onto the new format before the new-new format comes along and makes them start again.
"Yes ... everything."
That's only the beginning. Seemingly trivial little problems, like file formats becoming obsolete and tech companies going out of business, could put all of recorded history at risk. It's already happening: NASA lost tons of data from their early Moon missions because it was recorded on old computers and the new ones can't open the files. We don't mean that stuff is temporarily unavailable. It's lost, because technology has advanced to the point where we've literally forgotten how to read it.
And those guys are NASA. If it happens to them, it could happen to anybody. If Microsoft discontinues Word, that novel you were never going to finish anyway might be gone forever. If Adobe wills it, all your PDFs are gone overnight. Again, this isn't hypothetical fearmongering. Vint Cerf, the vice president of Google, advises you to print out any photos and documents that you want to keep, because even Google admits that paper is more secure than digital storage.
In an ominous interview with The Guardian, he said, "We are nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become an information black hole without realizing it. We digitize things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don't understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, maybe even worse, than the artifacts that we digitized."
William Thomas Cain / Stringer / Getty Images
When the guy who invented the internet tells you not to trust the internet, you best listen.
But as long as we're diligent and keep updating our programs and tirelessly transferring our files to new formats, we should be fine, right? Sure! You can believe that!
As long as you don't read the next entry ...
Storing data on your computer doesn't make it immortal, as you might have assumed. Sadly, "I may die, but my extensive porn collection will live on forever" is naught but a beautiful dream. It happens very slowly, but over the years, those files will start to decay. It only takes a tiny piece of data on your hard drive becoming corrupt. Sure, nothing is affected on your system right now, but the problem gets worse every time you copy those files to a new drive or format. Eventually, they'll become entirely useless, and history will never know exactly what you masturbated to, and how often.
Kim Traynor/Wiki Commons
Some eras didn't have this blessing.
You can test this yourself. Only the most diligent of nerds, or cheap of grandparents, are reading this on a computer with a floppy drive. Do us a favor and take a trip up to the attic to retrieve that box of old floppy discs. The files on those discs are already corrupted. Some things might still be usable, but some are definitely not. That data is decaying like a forgotten banana, and one day soon will be gone entirely.
No, you can't back them up right now. Hard drives don't distinguish between functional and corrupt data. They'll copy the corruption over, and then start rotting in their own way. If you're trusting in the experts and authorities to preserve the important stuff for you ... don't. Government agencies and official record keepers are at the most risk for bit rot, because the sheer size and cost of their archival systems means they don't update often.
Library of Congress
This modern computer data storage space is three years old, which means it's no longer modern.
Forget about court rulings and the Cracked backlog -- future generations may never be able to watch the original Voltron. Do you want your grandkids to live in that world? We think the living would envy the dead.
In preparation for the coming digital end, K.M. Richards no longer has Facebook or Twitter, and prefers to be reached by telegram. Dibyajyoti Lahiri still hopes that web archaeologists of the future will dig up his social media updates one day and conclude that he was among the finest minds of his generation. Follow him on Twitter here.
For things to look forward to before the tech apocalypse happens, check out 15 Real Sci-Fi Technologies About To Change The World and 4 Ways Plasma Technology Will Change The World.
Also, follow us on Facebook. Or don't. It won't hurt our feelings. We promise.