I've tried to tackle this subject many times before and for some reason I've had a difficult time organizing my thoughts. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm in love with Google Music. It's actually opened up my CD collection and made it extremely easy to use and infinitely versatile. But to me, it really is exactly that - my CD collection.
It makes me wonder what the next generation will think of music and property. With a CD or DVD or LP or VHS tape or, more to the point, a shoebox full of photographs, I register a sense of personal property. These physical items belong to me and if a CD is scratched or damaged or a photograph is torn or creased then that physical item, that memory is now gone forever. In some cases the loss can be regained, in some cases it is impossible, but in every case there is a cost involved. With digital media, the idea of loss almost doesn't make sense. Obviously data can be lost if a computer dies, but backups are easy to make, and, I would argue, the very idea of value has been radically changed.
I am obviously in no position to know the answer. I am a product of my generation, and I have virtually no contact with anyone from the next generation. So this is all purely conjecture. But I would imagine that a child born in the past five years would develop a sort of ambivalence to physical media. What is the point of owning a CD when you can simply stream it from the internet? Why buy DVDs when you can, for a very reasonable fee, have access to any film of your choosing - via Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.
Even the quintessential high-value photo album has taken a big hit. Not long ago, amateur photography involved money and time. Photographs were, for practical purposes, irreplaceable. Now photography is so cheap and easy that there's almost no point. When I first got a digital camera, I treated each picture like a trial, deleting the ones I didn't care for and keeping only the best of the bunch. In other words, I treated it like film, but with the benefit of easy editing. Now I don't even bother to delete anything but the most incomprehensible images. Memory is cheap and plentiful and this has had the effect of devaluing most photographs to the point that I don't even really mind losing them. I lost a computer last year. Most of my documents and photos were backed up on other machines, but many of them were not. Those are likely gone for good. But I don't mind because photos are cheap.
This is not to say that I don't value photographs at all. That isn't the case - I have some pictures that I sincerely would hate to lose. But my photos are spread over the internet (Facebook, blogs, web storage, etc) and this makes each photo practically worthless.
So my question is this: is this merely the beginning? Will the concept of "owning" music and art eventually be lost? Because the only people who are panicking right now are the music studios and publishers as they try to find ways to cram new media into the business model of the past. Soon enough a new generation will take the helm of media publication and resale and their ideas and attitudes toward ownership will shape the industry.