What's the Value of Ownership in the Age of Cloud Computing?

My fiancée and I will soon move across the country with whatever will fit in our Honda Civic. This has brought up some discussions about which possessions are truly worth keeping.

"What is this obsession people have with books? They put them in their houses like they're trophies. What do you need it for after you read it?"

This quote from the ever-curious Jerry Seinfeld is particularly applicable to my life right now (which is weird, because usually it's George's wisdom that I find most relevant). This summer, in the span of a few weeks, I'm getting married, starting a new job (hopefully) and leaving my adopted hometown of Chicago to head east to Boston.

As part of this crazy plan, my fiancée and I are aiming to move with as few possessions as possible – just what will fit in our Honda Civic. This has brought up some discussions about what things of ours are truly worth keeping.

Take books, for example: unlike many people we know, who have shelves full of their favorite titles prominently displayed in their apartments, we have a couple of small shelves tucked away and have plans to donate a good portion of them before we move. This latest blow to our collection pretty much ensures that our new home won't feature a wall of books like the one I grew up with. We both wonder, should we care? Does it make us seem uneducated or uninterested to visitors? Or are we just practical -- not to mention ahead of our time -- given the inevitable move to electronic libraries?

The truth is, I haven't bought more than a handful of books over the last few years. While there's definitely something nice about owning a book instead of renting it (libraries always seem to get the ugliest, bulkiest editions), it's not something I'm willing to shell out cash for, especially when I'm not sure it's going to be good. When I buy a book, I like to think it's one I'll read more than once, or at least refer back to; I'm definitely more of a hoarder in this respect than Angela, who almost immediately passes along good reads to friends and family upon completion. There's no way I'll give up all my books, but it won't be that much of a challenge to let go of a significant percentage of my library.

Now, my CDs, that's another issue entirely. My music collection currently sits in several overstuffed CD storage books and one large plastic crate in a corner of my bedroom, taking up real estate as it has in my previous three apartments. I certainly have no desire to show it off, trophy-style, as I noticed a friend has in his apartment; though I may be proud of my collection, CDs have never really lent themselves to prominent display.

But that doesn't mean I can easily separate myself from something I built over 15-plus painstaking years. First I have to preserve it, disc by slowly ripped disc. While many of my CDs were uploaded to my old computer to then be transferred to my old iPod, both these devices are now useless. I’m back at square one, and I have some tough decisions to make unless I want to spend the next few months sitting in front of Angela’s MacBook (my own laptop’s CD drive broke about a month ago and I haven’t deemed it worth replacing, a sure sign that the discs’ days were numbered).

Choosing which albums are worth saving has been a fun process that's reminded me why I put so much importance on physical music objects in the first place – sorting through digital files isn’t nearly as rewarding. But it’s also made me never want to go through such an undertaking again – which is why I might finally be ready to move to the cloud.

Regular readers of this column may remember that I'm more than a little wary of cloud-based services that aim to free consumers from the hassle of actually owning and running software, apps, and files from their local hard drives. The concept's nothing new, but it's become a point of focus for music fans recently, thanks to the launch of Amazon's Cloud Drive and, more recently, Google Music (as I write, plans for the Apple entry are taking shape).

The Google and Amazon models are pretty similar -- neither has a deal with any major record labels, so the main service it offers is the ability to upload your own file collection (for Google it's music only, while Amazon accepts more file types) to large central servers for easy access via web-based apps. Apple, having secured partnerships with the big music-industry players, and Business Insider reports that this will give users the ability to scan their existing collections for legally purchased music, which will then be replicated on the servers and save hours of uploading time.

Regardless of the provider and the options, though, cloud-based music services have their drawbacks. The biggest concern is the loss of true ownership over what were once personal files. Forget tangible storage mediums; in the cloud, you won’t even know where your hard-earned collection is stored – so is it really “yours” anymore? In a recent Wired article discussing the impact of the recently announced Google Chromebook -- a laptop that runs completely using cloud-based apps -- on music fans, Eliot van Buskirk writes that “the future of music collecting lies in access, not storage.”

This new reality seems to make the act of collecting less satisfying; 'access' is not something you can put in a trophy case. When music is both everywhere and nowhere at the same time, what is the point of trying to lay claim to a piece of it? Now, it seems, playing a song in your collection will be no different from streaming something from Grooveshark or YouTube or, for that matter, a jukebox in a bar. If music taste is a part of personality – and I suppose that’s debatable – cloud-based music would seem to limit our connection to that part. Another way to look at it, of course, is that such services actually expand our ability to make our choices heard, as those music collections formerly tethered to hard drives and even iPods can now be freely accessed anywhere, anytime. You don’t have to wait to get home to share the new song that defines you (or even the one that you just recorded) – it’s available wherever you are.

Music’s ever-increasing ubiquity raises another concern, though, according to PopMatters’ own Rob Horning. In a recent “Marginal Utility” post, he writes that “the transformation of hard-to-lug collections into ephemeral lists” actually intensifies “the circulation of music as a commodity,” something that began with the first recorded tracks. As our music tastes and habits become part of the cloud (particularly the Google cloud), they become more fodder for marketers. Music becomes information that we offer up about ourselves, and presumably leads to ever more personalized pitches.

But does this ultimately change the listening experience for the average user? Probably not – and I’d argue that the use of music taste as a method of self-presentation is not unique to the cloud; those long lists of favorite bands on MySpace essentially served the same purpose, even if users weren’t actually ceding recordings to the site. I feel like I’ve been creating a marketing profile for as long as I’ve had an outlet to profess my opinions.

Ultimately, this comes down to a matter of needs. As much as cloud services might stress me out intellectually, the reality is that they help to solve a present problem or desire (Facebook users confront a similar internal battle as they balance social interests and privacy concerns). I may come to regret the move to the cloud and the way that it affects my relationship with music -- but right now, I can't find a good enough reason not to do it. So I'll give up most of my beloved CDs with relative confidence that I'll be able to enjoy them in some form in our new apartment. If only we could do the same thing with our furniture.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.