Thursday, November 24, 2005

Digital Material

Read today that iTunes Store is selling more music than Towers Records and Bourders combined. You can now read things like "the CD is dead". If we take the perspective that what the digital transformation is all about is the transformation of the world as we know it into a world dominated by digital material. So, music has not changed, but the material it is manifested by. And what has not been well understood and sufficiently appreciated is the enormous importance of the material. A digital material is so different from other materials that it changes the very foundation of how we can and should understand our reality.

As an example, we remember what was considered to be the huge difference and change when we moved from the LP to the CD as the (material) carrier of music. Suddenly, the music did not wear and tear. Perfect sound. More space on a CD, cheaper to produce, etc. Still, those changes were only the first and least important consequences of what it was really about. The important thing was the transformation into digital format. The CD was the first consequence of that, iTunes Store, is a consequence of the same change.

If we want to understand our reality and what influence information technology has, we have to think about the underlying and fundamental digital material. The quality of something transformed into digital material is so different and intellectually challenging to comprehend that we have not yet fully been able to understand it. This inability to understand is visible within the industries now being challenged by the consequences of dealing with a digital material, like the music and film industry. And more will come. We will see more changes in the future, more aspects of our traditional reality being transformed into digital material.

The interesting HCI and interaction design challenge is to see these fields as the way we humans will interact with this vast pool of digital material. And we are only in the beginning...!

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