Imagine what it must have been like at the turn of the century when a family first welcomed a phonograph or gramophone into their home. For the first time in human history, music from the world’s greatest performers is available on demand. Instead of having to travel to a grand opera house somewhere, you could call stars like Enrico Caruso to your home at any time of the day or night to sing just for you. It was magical.
And there was more to come. After the First World War, the radio appeared, bringing not only music into your home but also news and a wide variety of entertainment from around the world. It can’t get any better, can it?
But technology continued to work wonders. In June 1948 we received the 33 1/3 RPM longplaying album which enabled the home listener to enjoy up to 22 minutes of uninterrupted music from the best in the world. VHF radio with its high fidelity signal began in the 1950s, followed by the craze for high-end home audio equipment. This was followed in a short time by 8-track and cassette (personal music for on the go, even in the car!), Which were replaced by the compact disc, high-tech plastic circles that promised perfect sound forever. At this point, we were certain that we had achieved the highest possible level of quality and comfort in terms of music consumption.
Then the digital age really struck in the 1990s thanks to the Internet. When Napster and their ilk showed up in 1999, we suddenly had access to all the music we wanted, anytime of the day, for FREE! If we wanted to be a little more scrupulous, there was always the iTunes Music Store, which offered cheap, legal downloads from a library that was expanding every day. And all of those digital files could either be burned to a car CD-R or loaded onto a portable device that would never skip no matter how much you shake it. (I remember blinding my neighbor with an RCA lyre that could – gasp! – record an hour’s worth of songs!)
When the iPod Classic came on the market with its 160 GB hard drive, around 40,000 songs could be transported in a package that was smaller than a deck of cards. How could it get any better?
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Still it did. When people bought iPod Classics in 2009, a new thing called streaming took off. These new companies, starting with Rhapsody in 2001 and exploding with Spotify’s debut in 2008, promised access to millions, then tens of millions, of songs for next to nothing. Do you have a song in your head As long as you had an internet connection, you can be listening in seconds.
What we have now was science fiction 20 years ago. In fact, we now take it for granted that we can listen to any music created by mankind – about 75 million songs or so and more – at any time, wherever we are, on any device we have. We have finally reached the peak of music consumption.
Or do we have? What could come after streaming? Let’s speculate wildly.
Scientists and engineers are already working on eliminating the need to carry headphones or earphones. Imagine for a moment that you could install a tiny device the size of a decorative ear stud right behind your ear in a tattoo parlor, for example, just like you could have your ears pierced. Using the principles of bone conduction – something already a reality in both military headsets and off-the-shelf headphones – audio is broadcast straight to your skull from a device in your pocket. You hear the sound (music, a phone call, whatever), but since your ears are otherwise unoccupied, you can also clearly hear what is happening in the world around you.
Next, the need for any type of external device would be completely abandoned. Could we be turned into traveling antennas? Or how about having our own permanent personal algorithmic editor – a concept already explored in a number of science fiction novels – that delivers content based on our feelings or (dare I say) thinking? I wouldn’t work it out. In fact, Spotify moves with its Sentiment Analysis Patents.
Elon Musk has a company called Neuralink that researches brain-computer interfaces – in other words, implants. A coin-sized device that is implanted in the skull just a few millimeters from the brain. is being tested. Musk envisions these implants as solutions to several types of medical problems, but what do you mean that they cannot be used as receivers for audio entertainment?
Fine. But what about visual entertainment? I wouldn’t count data glasses. Google Glass was interesting but, for various reasons, it failed to resonate with consumers, but it is Enterprise Edition has found a place in certain workplaces where freehand work is important. The company does a lot of research and development in this area to anticipate competition from Apple that is being worked on own wearable glasses that could hit the market next year.
If such glasses are accepted by the public, be careful. Video entertainment, augmented reality, virtual reality, live streaming, and gaming, all hands-free and 100 percent portable, will be everywhere. Combine that with an external device (or better yet, an implant) and the possibilities are endless.
Do you think we’re zombies now, walking around in our little audio bubbles? Just wait
Creepy or cool? Either way, the future is on its way.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.
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