The Physical Value of Digital Information ObjectsBy Kim Gaskins September 22, 2009
People bought (and continue to buy) real paper newspapers and magazines because it feels like you’re getting something worth the price. A real physical object. Yes, the true value was, is, and will be the content, but the evidence so far is that media consumers don’t see it that way. When you pay a dollar for a newspaper it feels like you’re paying for the actual stack of paper, and it feels like a fair price. That just isn’t the case with web pages.
It does seem that the popular perception of what’s worth paying with regard to digital information objects is localized in the “thingness” of a real physical object; remove the physical framework, to which cognitive conceptions about economic value are tied, and these issues become confounded.
[Digital] Things Take Time
The zeitgeist of “free” in response to digital information offerings has been treated as necessarily an enduring, and strengthening, phenomenon; after all, “information wants to be free.”
The evolution of cognitive notions takes time, and technology moves at an incomparable speed. Nostalgia and personal habits are factors subject to change over time as new “norms” for technology and information access pervade our daily lives–if they can deem one type of learned experience so worthwhile (and, thus, worth paying for)–why not some digital experiences with information also, in time?
The book experience is more complex and beautiful than the Kindle can offer. I love going to the library or store and wandering through the aisles. As I wander the fiction section of Brookline Booksmith maybe I’ll run into a friend or make a new one. I’ll walk through the stacks of the Copley Library and maybe I’ll flip through an oversized set of prints of Velasquez paintings I had no idea existed.
Michael Critz, “Can I Borrow That?”
Interestingly, it’s not so much the passing of physical objects that individuals lament; it’s the experiences they create.
Digital experiences are broaching “social” in new ways–and the Internet (the proverbial rabbit hole) has always won when it comes to stumbling upon new and delightfully unexpected information.
(Not to suggest that digital could or should replace the physical in general–but, as far as the experience of information goes, facets of the digital may inherently strike the evolving mind as something worth paying for in the near future.)
Playing up the Physical in the Digital
In the meantime, it seems that digital information experiences could emphasize aspects that individuals value in their interactions with physical information objects.
For example, the Kindle is both portable and tactile–factors that inform where and how content is digested in the physical world. But, unlike books and magazines, it (along with most forms of digital media now) isn’t very shareable–digital advancements have done wonders for personalizing information objects and services, but is still catching up when it comes to socializing them:
My biggest beef with Kindle is the idea of selling me a $10 book but locking it down with DRM. I can’t let a good friend borrow Jack Kerouac. I can’t sell back old textbooks. I can’t trade paperbacks at paperbackswap.com.
You bought it. You own it. And you can’t share it.
Michael Critz, “Can I Borrow That?”
Show Me Something I Haven’t Seen Before
In time, it seems that features which present themselves to the modern digital mind as truly novel, rather than subterfuges to legitimize a suddenly “un-free” regime shift, have proven worth paying for. Cognitively, this kind of value can be found in the sheer “newness” of it all. (Innovations that strike users as “new” or truly novel seem to rely largely on technological advances in how information is accessed and presented.)
These have and might include features like interoperability across personal devices and offline caching (as extensions of physical portability), and various mash-ups of real-timeness, personalized recommendations (ex. next-gen feed-reader, Fever), “unlimited” libraries, and multimedia/interface enhancements (ex. augmented reality app, Wikitude).
Header photo courtesy of doctabu’s flickr, (cc) some rights reserved.