in Books, Music, TV

Life Changing Technology

In conversation over the Christmas break, I was reflecting on how some of the technology I have in the house is – in a small, but real sense – life changing.

Not life changing as in nano-bots, self-driving cars or medical breakthroughs, but smaller more day-to-day technologies that insinuate themselves into your life and genuinely change how you live.

For example, a number of years ago we added Sonos to the house. Whole house audio, plus Spotify, completely changed the way we listen to music. Spotify’s weekly and daily “Discovery” playlists mean we’re listening to more diverse music, and the ease with which we can get that audio playing in any room means we’re listening more often. Even better, Spotify recently released direct Sonos control from their app. This means I can listen to Spotify in the car (which itself has direct integration) then seamlessly have the audio continue once I walk into the house.

As well as being adept at passively absorbing media we both love to read. We got early generation Kindles soon after their release, and are now using the latest Paperwhite devices. I go through books very quickly and while I love the tactile feel of real books – and how they look on shelves – if I kept all the books I read I’d need to build a library to house them. As tempting as that is, I keep physical copies only of my favourite books, and now have digital copies of the rest. Thousands of titles available via our (shared) Amazon accounts and Calibre are instantly available anywhere we have wifi.

A combination of video services – Netflix, Prime Video, Plex – provide similar functionality for TV and film. In the 90s I had hundreds of VHS tapes, all labelled and catalogued (I’ve always been a media geek). In the early 2000s, this became a library of DVDs. I daren’t calculate how much I spent on DVDs in the first 5 years of that technology. Today, we have very little optical media in the house. Streaming services and local digital file storage via Plex have made it mostly redundant. It used to be that only video games required physical media but even that is changing with digital downloads.

These technologies have one thing in common: they enable directed consumption. Instead of watching whatever happens to be on TV we can choose from huge libraries of content and watch only the shows that interest us. Instead of flicking between radio stations to find something good, we get access to a music library that learns our preferences and makes compelling recommendations. Even the Kindles combined with Amazon’s store and the Goodreads database can recommend the next novel or non-fiction book.

All this is grand, but what about serendipity? That unexpectedly great show you find while channel hopping, or the song (or documentary) you discover while jumping between radio stations. Realistically, the recommendation algorithms are so good today that I’m getting more interesting content than I can handle anyway. Also when something is really good it usually gets recommended to me by real humans (either online or in the real world).

Like I said, these are not earth-shattering inventions, but together, and when integrated with other systems and services, they can genuinely change the way you live.