Albums, books, and other objects are being replaced by unseen data—but new ways to craft our identities are emerging, too
By the time this post has gone to press, Google will have announced its latest creation, Google Music. It's Google's retort to Amazon's Cloud Drive, a sound cloud in the sky that was launched earlier this year where all your music can live hard-drive free and network-accessible. The critics will complain of its many flaws (you have to upload all your songs manually, there are network issues, and the record labels will be cranky), but for some of us, it will mark a transition that's been spoken about for a while but has only arrived now. We will no longer possess, in a formal sense, our own stuff. Not even on our hard drives. Instead, it will have gone fully virtual, kind of like Tron but without the neon suits. Slowly but surely, our belongings are vanishing into the cloud.
At first glance, this is a little scary. At places like frog, a company known for its embrace of industrial design, we are used to the idea that physical forms are desirable, even aspirational (think the sexy curves of a Porsche 911, or the refined sensibility of Dieter Rams's classic appliances for Braun). Physical objects identify us, brand us, and send palpable signals to others about who we are. They communicate us to the wider world. The shift to a world driven by software has been one that many people have made somewhat begrudgingly, especially when wondering what it might be like to visit a friend's apartment and not be able to sort through a stack of vinyl or browse through their bookshelf. What will replace that? Will those things really just disappear, and along with them, a part of our identity?