Just when you thought music CDs were on their way out the door, think again.
The Universal Music Group will be reducing the list price of many of its CDs, including new releases, to $10 and below. The new pricing plan – labeled the Velocity program – is expected to begin in the early part of this year.
The intent of the price drop is to potentially rejuvenate the diminishing CD market. The sales of albums in the U.S. dropped for the eighth time in nine years. UMG will be listing single CDs between six and ten dollars in the hopes of increasing sales volume.
Nearly eighty percent of album purchases last year were from CDs. In 2008, CD sales totaled 360.6 million, compared to 2000 when total sales equaled 706.3 million units. Since 2000, there has been a staggering 52% drop in total album sales.
A steady rise of digital download purchases has influenced the shrinking CD sales numbers, but it hasn’t yet generated enough to make up for the deficiency. UMG is optimistic that lowering CD prices will result in longevity for the medium.
“We think [the new pricing program] will really bring new life into the physical format,” Universal Music Group Distribution President and CEO Jim Urie said.
The price plan does sound beneficial for consumers from an economic standpoint. If you figure the average full-length CD consists of about ten tracks, then each track would cost $0.60 to $1.00. That’s better than the $1.00 or so that iTunes and other distributors are offering.
Of course, the downside to CDs still remains a lack of consumer options. The majority of digital sales are from individual tracks. With digital downloads, I can select exactly which songs I want. The CD buyer is stuck with the entire album of tracks, good and bad.
It will be a difficult challenge to draw consumer appeal toward an aging medium. Why tote a handful of bulky CDs around when you can load up the iPod with a few hundred of your favorites? People have migrated to the digital world of music media, and taking a step backward just seems unlikely.
Now if I happen to run across a CD of a band that I really like – or a much-anticipated album – I may spring the ten bucks for it. A ‘greatest hits’ compilation or some catchy album artwork might even convince me to buy the disc. Aside from all of that, I will probably stick with the iTunes account. Plus, I don’t have the home storage space for CDs anymore.
“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place… If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines – including Google – do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.” – Google CEO Eric Schmidt
As the massive global cloud of Google continues to accumulate, the issue of online privacy is also escalating. Numerous activities conducted by Google have generated an onslaught of criticism around the world.
The recent introduction of Google Buzz, a social media service, angered many of its initial users. The application mined Gmail contact lists and automatically added contacts to their Buzz accounts without initial consent. The default settings resulted in users sharing updates, photos, and videos with unwanted people. Responding to the complaints, Google installed an opt-out disclaimer that disables the feature.
Street View, a technology that provides panoramic images of streets around the world, has received a public backlash from the U.K. and Germany. The major concern is that citizens are being photographed, and their images posted to the Internet without consent.
Privacy issues may continue to increase as smartphones gain popularity. Google is currently devoting much of its resources into developing mobile applications. Chief executive Eric Schmidt predicts smartphones will soon replace desktop PC’s as the optimal Internet connection device. This strategy is a result of the migration of advertising from traditional media, to the Internet, and now to mobile phones.
“Mobile advertising should ultimately be much better [than PC advertising],” Schmidt said. “With a mobile device we know where you are so we can offer much more enhanced localized opportunities.”
The threat of online privacy invasion – now and in the future – is certainly debatable. The idea that Google may have participated in deceptive or immoral tactics should be a major concern.
Let’s not rush to judgment just yet though. There are left and right wing responses to the issue of privacy, and both deserve attention.
From top to bottom: (top) An Australian news company delivers eye-opening propaganda; (middle) Google CEO Eric Schmidt responds to the growing concerns and criticism of privacy; (bottom) a few tips on how to remove Google from your Internet activities.
If those solutions aren’t enough to curtail your privacy concerns, there are always alternative measures. Even serious issues, such as privacy invasion, require a sense of humor:
This final post of a three-part series explores the spectrum of applications for 3D technology. What sparked the fascination with 3D imagery during its inception? What are the ways in which 3D is providing social impact today? What do the near and far futures hold for 3D technology?
When most of us hear the term ‘3D,’ we probably envision: sitting in a dark movie theater, wearing geeky glasses, and watching images burst from the screen. Some of those movies may have been visually impressive (think Avatar), while others might have left you with a headache (think Spy Kids 3D).
More feature films are now being produced in 3D format. Television is also taking the plunge into the market this year. The sudden revival of 3D entertainment is adding new and exciting visual elements to media, but that’s not all 3D is capable of achieving.
The current applications of 3D technology extend far beyond entertainment applications. There are many ways in which 3D imagery is impacting society on a global scale. From advertising and fashion, to dentistry and ultrasound, innovative uses are benefiting these professions along with many others.
Both gratification and growth are endeavors that encompass the timeline of 3D imagery technology. The method of producing the illusion of depth, or stereoscopy, was developed over a century ago. At the time the applications of 3D images were primarily for pleasure and entertainment. The ways in which 3D technology are utilized today carry more widespread social impact. The outlook for the future may very well embody both objectives.
The origins of 3D imagery trace back to the nineteenth century. The earliest introduction of stereoscopy technology is credited to Sir Charles Wheatstone, an English scientist and inventor. In 1833, Wheatstone developed the idea of presenting slightly different images to the eyes through a device called a ‘reflecting mirror stereoscope.’ This stereoscope was a handheld device, fashioned like binoculars, that contained prismatic lenses.
The two-dimensional images, known as stereographs, were positioned side-by-side, approximately two-and-a-half inches apart. Each image corresponded to the appropriate eye. When viewed through the stereoscope device, the brain combines the two images to produce an illusion of depth.
Sir David Brewster, a Scottish scientist, introduced the Brewster Stereoscope in 1849. The handheld device, which he initially called the ‘lenticular telescope,’ was based largely on the principles of Wheatstone’s device. The Brewster model utilized lenticular lenses instead of prisms which allowed for a much smaller device. In 1851, commercial models of Brewster’s device were introduced at the Great Exposition in London. The production of stereo photography began to flourish soon after.
The introduction of stereoscopy in America is credited to physician and professor Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. In the 1860s, he developed a more streamlined and economical version of the viewing device. Interestingly, Holmes did not patent his idea. The stereoscope sparked enormous popularity in the U.S. as Americans’ fascination outgrew that of Europeans.
The Brewster and Holmes stereoscopes provided templates for William Gruber and Harold Graves. In 1939, the duo collaborated to form the company View-Master. A similar handheld device, the View-Master was intended as an alternative to scenic postcards. It quickly grew to huge popularity as a children’s toy.
The application of stereoscopic imaging was largely for entertainment purposes, but did provide other benefits. The U.S. Geological Survey utilized 3D still photography for informational purposes. Hundred of stereoscopic pictures were taken in the early 1900s as a way to provide a visual history. The photographs consisted of notable landmarks and locations throughout the western U.S.
The use of 3D imagery as entertainment began to emerge in moving pictures as well. The first anaglyphic motion picture, known as the plastigram, was first conceived in 1889. Red and green filters were applied to anaglyphic images and displayed on glass slides. The viewer even had the option of selecting from two possible endings, the green ‘happy’ filter or the ‘red’ tragic filter.
The intrigue of depth illusions also made its way to the theatrical stages of Victorian Era London. In the early 1860s, Henry Dircks and John Henry Pepper devised a technique for projecting lifelike 3D images onto a stage. Dubbed Pepper’s Ghost, the technique captivated audiences with its amazing spectacle. The ghostlike images would appear from nowhere and seemingly interact with live actors. Pepper’s Ghost would become the precursor for modern holographic projection.
The early historical applications of 3D technology primarily focused on entertaining. The visual spectacles and innovations continued to amaze mass audiences and viewers. The decades ahead would, however, incorporate the ‘magic’ of 3D in more visceral ways and much more useful means.
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The recent history of 3D imagery includes the application in various industries such as aeronautics, automotive, and architecture. CAD, or computer-aided design, allows researchers and designers to create 3D models through software tools. These models allow the visualization, and even behavioral simulation of a multitude of objects.
The benefits for developers in the aeronautics or the automotive industries are tremendous based on the magnitude of their professions. Even the fashion industry has benefited from 3D modeling technology. Leading firms have incorporated imaging technology to create 3D models of – you guessed it – runway models. Based on these conceptions, they can design clothing that properly conforms without cutting a single piece of fabric.
The ‘magic’ of 3D has benefited various professions of the medical field as well. Modern devices such as sonograms produce actual 3D representations of internal human functions. Utilizing ultrasound technology, images are conceived through sound reflection mechanisms. These sonogram images are widely used to view the stages of pregnancy.
Dentistry has also incorporated 3D modeling techniques into numerous practices worldwide. Dentists can now conduct procedures for crowns quicker than ever. Instead of creating physical impressions of a patient’s tooth, a computerized 3D system scans the tooth. The new crown can be produced that same day, bypassing the need for a temporary one.
The impact of 3D is also evident in preparing for surgical procedures. CAD technology enables surgeons to transform CT scans of anatomical structures into full-colored 3D models. This allows them to visually study the specific structure of a patient’s anatomy prior to incision.
The advertising industry has also been a beneficiary of modern 3D technology. Display cases that utilize the Pepper’s Ghost technique are appearing in many retail locations around the world. These units project a fully interactive 3D hologram that consumers can experience within a store. With a remote control, the user can rotate the image and alter its colors based on preference.
Holograms are also being projected onto the stage using the latest HDTV technology. Just as John Henry Pepper enhanced the theatrical experience in the mid 1800s, 3D technology is providing new creative possibilities for live settings today. The renowned Musion Eyeliner system takes the Pepper’s Ghost technique into the twenty-first century. Lifelike holograms of people are projected into virtual concerts, promotion events, and advertising.
Of course, there are all of those exciting applications in the world of entertainment. For the typical consumer, this is the role that 3D technology is most visible. The ‘magic’ of 3D has successfully enhanced popular forms of media and venues including: movies, TV, videogames, and theme parks.
The movie Avatar has generated lots of buzz for a 3D revival. A growing number of cinematic films are following suit and emerging in three-dimensional format. High definition television manufacturers are introducing 3D capable models to the market this year.
Modern 3D imagery technology still manages to dazzle audiences with grand visual displays. More importantly, the integration of 3D into other significant fields has produced positive impacts on a global scale. Because of innovative 3D equipment and tools, many professions have experienced a growth of potential for providing services and care.
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Forecasting the Future
So, what is the future outlook of 3D? Will it continue to have an influence as both a recreational and humanitarian apparatus? Are there other feasible applications for 3D technology? Will the technology play a role in future breakthrough innovations?
Breakthroughs may evolve through the development of new fields of study. Emerging scientific disciplines, such as augmented reality, are likely to escalate in the coming decades. Augmented reality is essentially the experience of looking through a real-time viewfinder of the physical world. The viewfinder also provides additional visualizations and interactive features which supplement the physical image.
Augmented reality devices are already being developed and marketed to the public. Technology, like acrossair, is available to consumers as a mobile phone application. This mobile software may be the beginning of a dynamic collaboration between 3D principles and physical environments.
That collaboration could lead to the replacement of traditional viewing hardware with interactive 3D displays. If you ever watched the movie Minority Report, then you may recall seeing a conceptual version of this display. With the use of 3D glasses, program windows and desktop icons would appear in space. They could be controlled or manipulated through eye contact or pointing.
Simulated reality is another emerging field of study that incorporates principles of 3D technology. The concept is to create an immersive simulation of ‘true’ reality. It is not to be confused with virtual reality in which the user is aware of the artificiality. The simulated reality experience would be indistinguishable from the real physical world we inhabit.
A fictional representation of simulated reality is the holodeck, a facility that renders artificial environments. It was popularized in the television series Star Trek, and also featured in the movie The Matrix.
The basic construct of a holodeck is that of an enclosed room in which objects and people are simulated in a multi-dimensional environment. The user would be immersed in a lifelike setting complete with sounds and smells. The user would have the ability to interact with other seemingly conscious individuals. This device of the future may someday be developed for training and recreational purposes.
The holodeck may be a vision of the far future. The most feasible and practical application of the near future may very well be for education. Technology currently exists in classrooms that provide students with visually engaging instruction. Universities and technical schools are using digital projection systems to teach their students.
The educational application of 3D technology can provide a major social impact. The ability to visualize challenging subjects such as anatomy, biology, and astronomy could make the learning curve much smoother for students. Costs and content development are factors that would need addressed to realize the educational potential.
Another potential obstacle of technological progress may be vision. You may be thinking that all of these conceived futuristic technologies are merely the products of imagination and science fiction. This may be the case presently, but a lot of the tools and devices that exist today were inspired by works of fiction. Social necessities will greatly influence the research and future developments of innovative 3D imagery.
The potential for 3D technology is enormous, but its practicalities will determine mainstream consensus. For the majority of skeptical consumers, 3D represents little more than eye candy. With visual quality a frequent issue, it is still vying for acceptance in the entertainment market. Yes, it is essentially nothing more than optical illusions – but, those illusions can be a springboard to realistic achievements.
Through innovative thinking, humans can contrive more tools and mechanisms than ever to make a difference in lives. There are many present benefits from 3D technology. There will be many future developments specifically for recreation. Bettering society should also be a consistent goal that we strive for in 3D technology development. Like any technology, the long-term significance of 3D imagery will be predicated on its social, cultural, and economic impacts.
“The problem isn’t Google; it’s what Google helps us find. For some, Google will let them find useless content that does not challenge their minds. But for others, Google will lead them to expect answers to questions, to explore the world, to see and think for themselves.” – Esther Dyson, longtime Internet expert and investor
Have you ever noticed the extreme brevity of the World Wide Web? Nearly everything is delivered in quick, concise messages. News feeds, status updates, curtailed videos, and instant messages. It’s the language of the Internet.
This systematic approach to communication is the comparative version of fast food consumption. It’s similar to the zillions of drive-thru restaurants we gorge from everyday. We want the meat delivered fast, even if it’s a bit dry. Then we multitask – consuming our food while hastily driving to our next destination. People just don’t seem to have the time or patience to enjoy the meal.
So, should this brevity concern us? A magazine article by Nick Carr, entitled “Is Google Making Us Stoopid,” was published in July 2008. It generated a slew of responses from the media and bloggers. Carr presented a thought provoking argument about the long-term effects of the Internet on human cognition.
Carr made the argument that the Internet diminishes literacy skills and reduces the capacity for retention. He based the notion on the fact that written web content is typically presented in short bursts. Think of concise paragraphs, numerous sub-sections, brief e-mails, or 140-character Tweets.
The article contained testimonies from neuroscientists and sociologists. They explained that the human brain is extremely malleable and conforms to the technologies that it is subjected to. The computing power of sites like Google means that our brains do considerably less processing.
Carr added that our reliance on intellectual technologies reduces our mental capacity because these technologies have become incorporated into the Internet. He wrote, “It’s (the Internet) becoming our map and our clock, our printing press and our typewriter, our calculator and our telephone, and our radio and TV.”
So, is the Internet really making us stupid? The question, along with others, was recently posed to 895 experts in the technology world. The report, conducted by the research firm Pew Internet, intended to provide a collective forecast on the effects of the Internet. The majority of responses proved to be more positive than Carr’s interpretation.
Asked whether Google will make us stupid, 76% of the experts agreed that it would not have that effect on users. The majority concluded that access to enormous amounts of information would actually make us smarter and equipped to make better decisions.
Hal Varian, chief economist for Goggle, said, “Google will make us more informed. The smartest person in the world could well be behind a plow in China or India. Providing universal access to information will allow such people to realize their full potential, providing benefits to the entire world.”
Axel Bruns, Associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology is skeptical of the benefits. He said, “By 2020, we will have even more access to even more information, using even more sophisticated search and retrieval tools – but how smartly we can make use of this potential depends on whether our media literacies and capacities have caught up, too.”
The expert panel was also asked about the effects of the Internet on reading, writing, and memory retention. Again, the response was largely positive with 65% agreeing that in ten years the Internet will have enhanced these skills.
“Moreover, it will be apparent by 2020 that a multi-literate society has developed, one that can communicate with ease through a variety of media, including art and photography, animation, video, games and simulations, as well as text and code,” said Stephen Downes of the National Research Council, Canada.
Some experts did not wholly agree with that sentiment. “We will be less patient and less able to concentrate on long-form texts,” countered Andreas Kluth, a writer for Economist Magazine. “This will result in a resurgence of short-form texts and story-telling, in ‘Haiku-culture’ replacing ‘book-culture.’”
Amidst all of the prognosticating, many of the conclusions in the report seem rational. Reading, writing, and literacy skills are changing and adapting to a digital medium. A language of brevity may not necessarily be a catalyst for debilitation of the mind. Most of us are probably consuming the fast food in order to meet the hectic demands in our lives.
So, is the Internet really making us stupid? T.S. Eliot once wrote, “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” Internet information is enormously abundant and extremely accessible. Much of it is prudent, but even more is impractical. All of it, however, is useless if we don’t know what to do with it. The manner in which information influences our wisdom and cognition will be based on: how well we process information and the decisions we make based on the information.
A few weeks ago the local Hollywood Video shop announced it was shutting its doors for good. I was pretty surprised by the news considering it was the only walk-in DVD rental store in the vicinity. The closing made me think about where people are going for their DVD fixes these days.
There are other options in the neighborhood still available for movie rentals. Red Box has three vending machines nearby, all within a few hundred feet of each other. There are the online rental options too. I finally opened a Netflix account after hearing the high remarks about their service from friends. So far, I have been pretty happy with them.
The local Hollywood Video closing was the result of a recent bankruptcy filed by its parent company, Movie Gallery. Announced in February, the massive chain planned to close 805 stores across the U.S. That amounts to about one-third of the company’s total outlets. It was the second bankruptcy filed in the past three years by the video retailer.
Price competition has caused consumers to migrate to cheaper and more convenient resources. Hollywood Video offers a five-day rental on new releases for roughly five dollars. Compare that to Red Box and their $1 per night charge and it’s a no brainer. Netflix offers a subscription service starting at $8.99 per month. The package includes an unlimited number of rentals, exchanging one DVD per mail delivery. It also features unlimited access to their online library. Better yet, there are no dreaded late fees.
The closing of Hollywood Video is more than a by-product of economics. It represents the inevitable passing of another entertainment medium, the DVD. The ‘digital video disc’ has experienced a glorious, but short lifespan in the commercial entertainment industry. Introduced to the U.S. in 1997, the DVD successfully replaced the now archaic VHS cassette tape.
DVD movie rentals and sales still dominate the media market, but for how long? Netflix, along with other distributors, have proven that the movie viewing experience can be achieved through Internet streaming technology. Faster broadband connections enable consumers to watch their favorite movies on their HDTV, laptop, or smartphone.
Where will these developments ultimately leave the DVD movie? One word. Nostalgia. You can soon add your impressive DVD movie collection to the list of outdated media. In my lifetime I have witnessed the passing of vinyl records, 8-track tapes, audiocassettes, VHS, Betamax, and Laserdisc. The compact disc is well on its way to joining the group.
Some of these media had minimal industry impact or consumer popularity. Others, like vinyl, were monumental in the commercial entertainment business. The nostalgia associated with vinyl still resonates today. There’s something mystical about that scratchy pop of a needle across wax. Just listen to hip-hop songs these days for validation.
There’s something else vinyl LP’s had that you don’t see anymore, album artwork. I recently discovered a wonderful collection of LP’s for sale at a flea market, priced no more than five dollars apiece. There were hundreds of them, prominent rock bands from the 70s and 80s all with beautiful album artwork. Boston, Rush, Triumph, and Styx to name a few. It was somewhat saddening to think that brilliant album cover art would never be tangible in the form of a digital download.
Vinyl albums represent nostalgia, and the DVD is on its way there as well. The experience of visiting a retail DVD rental store is often underappreciated. For a movie connoisseur like myself, there is no greater joy than thumbing through aisles of DVD releases. Those numerous times that you struck a conversation with the person next to you with “That was pretty good, I’d recommend that one for sure” were genuine moments of interaction. You might still have those conversations in the future, but they’ll be at your local used-DVD store.
Those used-media stores will be the final destination for many DVD’s and CD’s. About two years ago, I decided to convert my entire CD collection, several hundred of them, to digital format. They were occupying living space in my apartment. I sold them to a buy-and-sell-used shop for decent money. It wasn’t easy to part ways with them. I still remember the first compact disc album I ever bought, Aerosmith’s P.U.M.P. People get attached to a lot of different things over time. For me, it was my compact disc collection.
I can’t imagine parting with my DVD collection anytime soon. I have some personal gems that I have watched many times over. When I struggled for cash and made frequent trips to the pawnshop, the DVD’s were never part of the exchanges. I figured if I ever got evicted, at least I had my movie collection
Down the road, I am sure that attachment will also come to pass. Right now, a typical two-hour flick will eat up several gigabytes of hard drive space in digital format. That is valuable space I can’t afford to give up.
Compression technology will improve, making it possible to ‘rip’ movies into compact files, with exceptional audio and visual quality, and with minimal storage space. Plus, the storage cabinet I recently purchased is already full. I bet I’ll make a good buck on that sale.