After Hours

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Getting rid of the platters that don't matter

How hard is it to put an end to the hard copy?

Written on GR443 flying London to Jersey and dispatched to silicon.com via a free wi-fi service street-side in St Helier later the same day.

As a young child my family didn't own a 'gramophone' and I remember being very impressed when I visited the homes of friends that did - music on demand just seemed such a luxury and such a big deal.

But even then, the limited collections of 16RPM platters they had consumed a significant amount of space and saw furniture groaning under the sheer weight of vinyl.

In due course, upgrades to 33 and 45RPM followed, prices fell and people became even more profligate.

By the time I got my first home and a 'record player', my music collection also included 'recording tape' and soon after that, tape cassettes. What a mess! I had five different recording standards on the go at the same time compounded by a major storage and equipment problem.

So what a joy when MP3 arrived! I immediately got to converting everything to one standard and dispensed with all the original hardware, including the 'record + tape player', down at the charity shop. How delightfully clean and simple: a laptop, amplifier, speakers and no piles of plastic.

getting rid of old hard copies

The cassette - just one of many unloved old media
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

They say history repeats itself, and it certainly did when I re-ran the cycle for my defunct VHS tape collection.

This past week I made a start on my CD and DVD collections too - what a relief to see the shelves clearing and space being vacated yet again. In my life the CD format has been a defunct standard for some time, and it is my ambition to likewise relegate the DVD as soon as possible.

Very soon my friends, family and local charity shop are in for another windfall - a clutch of free movies! Interestingly, I acquired a number of hard copy versions of movies by the self-same mechanism as technophile friends started this cycle a while ago. They too have been eagerly getting rid of physical atoms of IT as fast as they can.

Once these cycles start, they rapidly gain in popularity and soon become the norm. My guess is that Blu-ray could well be the last disc type we see used as a major format for movie and entertainment distribution.

Of course, a few die-hards will hang onto the old stuff and make all kinds of claims about the quality and intrinsic value, but I suspect this is more to do with having something to show people, like paintings and books collections - after all it is difficult to impress a girl with the size of your computer directory!

What happens next? In short order we are about to see the movie outlets bite the dust in same way the music stores have died, and of course new distribution and business models will follow.

For me, however, the next big deal is getting rid of my library of books. They take up more space than any other collection past or present, but they do offer one green, but expensive, opportunity - as wall insulation for my home!

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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