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ODD THOUGHTS: YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN

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Odd thoughts sometimes pop into my head when unexpected things disrupt my day. Today's disruption was waking up to find my cable had gone out. That means my access to the internet is out, too. Ah, the internet! It's sometimes incredible to me how much time I spend using the internet for both personal and business chores and how dependent we've all become on it. Enter odd thought one: is that good?

In a bit of synchronicity, a local newspaper profiled a place near and dear to my heart; Record Time of Roseville, Michigan. When I began my DJ career, I discovered Record Time which had also just opened for business in nearby Eastpointe (then called East Detroit). It was the place to be to find out about new releases, pick up all the essentials, locate hard-to-find items, and above all, save big bucks. For working DJs, the owner, Mike Himes, issued a 10% discount card, which he always honored. It literally made a business like mine, started on a shoestring, possible. And today's article was a bittersweet one, because Record Time is about to close.

Now, I have to admit that my once weekly pilgrimage to Record Time had turned to once a month, and then "as needed" for the past few years. The reason? A music service combined with - you guessed it - the internet! While I love the experience of flipping through the stacks, seeing the creative displays of new products and finding the unexpected treasure, it's been nice not to have to put on boots and a coat in the winter, drive through the traffic and weather, fight for a parking spot for my huge cube truck and then lose hours of my day as I become mesmerized by my musical passion. Even with the heavy discounts, I always ended up spending more than I intended to.

It's easy to imagine how Mike's business has suffered if a DJ like myself, a "regular customer," is no longer enticed to visit on a regular basis. How many other DJs have skipped the trip to the store? How many non-DJs? I can't help feel a bit guilty, but at the same time, it looks like I'm far from the only one, enough so that a landmark institution is closing its doors, a victim of the new digital age.

I began to think about another such victim that was once very near and dear to my heart; the public library in Troy, Michigan. Even though it's a bit of a drive from my home, I used to love that library, having discovered it while volunteering at the local cable TV operation back in the "90s. As libraries go, Troy's was state-of-the-art. It was also huge, with an amazing inventory of books and media. My favorite library event, though, was the annual library sale, where excess books and, most importantly to me, MUSIC was offered for pennies on the dollar. I seldom missed one, and purchased everything from music to electronics. When my relationship with the cable station dissolved, my visits to the library were usually limited to these sales, but I did hear how attendance was suffering. Seems that students prefer to do their research online rather than the library which, ironically, was also one of the first to offer computers with internet access. The Troy library closed after a millage to support it failed to pass.

When it comes to media, including books, this is a trend everywhere. I remember spending hours in my favorite book stores finding out what's new, checking out the latest periodicals and maybe enjoying a specialty coffee which most of the better book stores offered for less than the high-end coffee shops. My favorite, Borders, is still open and apparently doing well, but a hole bunch of others have closed. Digital books are a booming business, and even my own little book, "The Complete Disc Jockey," is now available for Kindle users. I can't help but wonder if the days of the local bookstore are numbered. I've skipped buying an e-book reader for the time being, my small effort at resisting what surely must come eventually.

Business and military tacticians always warn against putting one's eggs in one basket, but the world seems intent on doing just that: all media is being carried and delivered by the internet at the expense of traditional methods. An article in the November 2010 issue of Broadcast Engineering informed readers of the saturation of OTT (Over-The-Top) video, where entertainment programming is delivered over the internet and, more specifically, to wireless mobile devices. "In only six days after being released," they write, "the Hulu application for the iPhone and iPad was the most downloaded service in Apple's App Store." We've traded free television and rabbit ears for pay television delivered via wireless digital networks" said network being the internet.

The postal service is trying to find ways to cut costs due to the lower volumes of mail being delivered, since most of us do our routine communication using e-mail" over the web. VOIP schemes, such as Vonage and "Magic Jack" are taking significant chunks of customers away from the traditional phone companies. Although companies like AT&T have vast resources and, in fact, own a significant part of the internet's infrastructure, an upheaval is on the horizon for all of the small, local phone companies.

These observations provoke other odd thoughts, like, what if the internet isn't limited to transmitting just data? Unlike media such as books and music, hard goods would seem safe from the World Wide Web, which is limited to transmitting data alone, right? Not necessarily. A few years ago some big news was made concerning 3-D "printers," which are able to render three-dimensional plastic facsimiles of various objects. It found immediate application in the medical industry, where scans of bones could be translated into a model that a doctor can hold in his hand and examine. This was eventually carried out to the next logical step: fabricating replacement "bones" using special formulations of the polymer used by these printers. A short time later, another feat was accomplished: a 3-D printer that could replicate another 3-D printer. Where might this be leading?

It is quite possible to see a future where anything made of plastic can be delivered via the internet, and people will be buying cartridges of liquid polymer for their printers just as we buy ink cartridges today. Various formulations will make nearly any product made of plastic instantly and cheaply available. Where will that leave manufacturers and retail outlets?

I can't help but wonder if metallic objects are completely out of the question. There are already very sophisticated CNC machines that can take a blank piece of metal stock and machine it, quickly and efficiently, into whatever an engineer has programmed the machine to make. Will the shopping mall of the future be a place where profiles for products, or parts of products, can be purchased on-demand from profiles sent by consumers? Or automatic fabric cutters and sewing machines can churn-out clothing as designed or uploaded? It's certainly not out of the question.

All of the things I've described, both current and in the possible future, all depend on that "one basket" called the Internet. My brief, annoying outage aside, a recent glitch that shut down e-mail service for tens of thousands, as well as the 2003 blackout that paralyzed the Midwest for several days shows just how fragile our infrastructure is and why the "basket" idea is a bad one. Several of my friends who had given up their "land line" telephones in favor of their cell phones were unable to communicate during the blackout, while land lines continued to operate, by and large. VOIP wasn't as common, but it, too, was out, as computer networks lost power as well. Natural disasters and unexpected glitches in our various systems give us enough trouble, but add the prospect of terrorist attack or civil unrest to the mix, and all of the things we depend on could be wiped-out in a flash, leaving us helpless. Do you have a back-up plan?

I must confess that I'm a bit of a nerd and love technology. But I'm also a human being, and feel for those who lose their jobs, businesses and livelihood because their jobs have become obsolete. We not only should focus on infrastructure where our computer and electrical grids are concerned, but where our workforce is concerned, too. Retraining needs to be readily available and affordable; cash for small businesses must also be available from those banks we all recently bailed out. In short, we must stack the odds in the favor of the workforce, because that workforce is also the body of consumers. It benefits all when a worker, unskilled or not, makes a good, livable wage. The internet isn't going anywhere, and why would we want it to? But our displaced shopkeepers and business owners aren't either. My buddy, Mike, deserves better. If the economic bust has taught us anything, it's taught us that if we don't stand together, we'll all fail together. How many ways can we think of to accomplish these goals? Those, I guess, will become more odd thoughts for another disrupted day.

 

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http://www.sahcgroup.com/

A professional DJ, self-employed since 1985, author of "The Complete Disc Jockey" and columnist for Mobile Beat Magazine. Stu is also an objective free-thinker who considers each and every issue on it's own merits; a rationalist, Constitutional (more...)
 

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