The Good Old Days

Stream of consciousness you say? Trying to find something on what used to be called the Internet is now officially a full time job. It’s not so much that various media strategies and hardware devices have carved things up into a tangle. It’s that what passes for interesting has been shorn of a reliable index in the move toward social filtering. We’re not there yet, the message seems to be. Is there a there there we are going to get to? Not clear.

Navigating Apple TV and its various peeks into the presumed future has been a valuable waste of time. For $100 plus an HDMI cable I get to sample various media dead ends including NetFlix, iTunes rental, buy, and streaming options, YouTube, and other stuff I can’t remember right now. In the past, I would have spent more time testing the work arounds for adding podcasts and ripped music to broaden the choices, but something about the device suggests we’re in such a rapid shakeout it might be easier to wait.

But for what? Google TV seems caught in little brother mode behind the next loser tablet wave. What ultimate value is there in trading Apple’s dead ends for another set of second rate dead ends? The idea that we can replace the aggregate value of the Hollywood studio system with some loose coalition of rag tag revolutionary product ignores the tendency for the avant-garde to go mainstream. At some point, having everything work from one device is the best way of killing any possible interest in what’s available.

We’re getting to the same place in the social software sweepstakes too, and I have Rackmouth to thank for it. In a recent update, Facebook messages are now randomly popping up with messages (I think) from everyone who I’ve “friended” since the dawn of time. Sometimes these chicklets or toasters or requestors as they used to be called or badges as they might now be called come 30 at a time, staying onscreen just long enough for me to miss any one of them as I scan. It’s like a dream where I keep trying to figure something out and keep getting distracted by another thing I never quite figure out before….

The new Twitter clients perpetuate this feeling of never quite catching up, of clicking from one random comment to a full stream of comments by some random person. The metadata and inferences surrounding each identity are becoming the way we know each other. If you want to know who this person is like, follow these people and see what they are interested in. Good luck ever finding your way back to the original comment or person, however. It’s probably better to wait until they pop up again randomly.

Switching media helps a little. While watching conventional TV last night, I saw an ad for Kindle books that pointed out you could continue reading a purchase you bought on the iPhone over on an Android phone or a Blackberry or whatever. When we have twenty loser tablets to also choose from, we’ll be that much happier. In other words, they’re selling against the pain of Apple TV, Roku, Google TV, etc., promising you the respite of universal access to a good old book.

This is where the mainstream is going, selling escape from the business of hunting down content across overlapping silos. And it’s going to work too. Like the enterprise players understand, it’s the maintenance contract that will provide the most durable relationship. It’s almost as though these guys are in league together, making it so difficult to own anything that you’ll be grateful for a smaller menu of choices that are streamed at you no matter what device you’re on. This is the new shelf space, the guaranteed mediocrity of the new common denominator.

Eventually, after waiting a while to hear from that interesting new friend who had something ephemerally clever to say, after surviving the NetFlix window or the network boycott of whichever device I have already collected, I will go back to my various bookshelves or @mentions or aging bookmarks and find something interesting to do. Even though I know the stream is littered with the as yet undiscovered time waster of tomorrow, I’m confident a careful sort of yesterday’s rejects will turn up something. It’s only in retrospect we realize these are the good old days.