One of the emerging trends in the cable industries is toward differential charging for internet usage. In other words: give you all the pipe that you can afford. Already Time-Warner is trialing hard bandwidth caps and tiered pricing for data in Texas (is Texas the harbinger of ALL evil?) where they limit downloads and charge more if you want to cross that cap and download another song. For today’s average consumer? This probably doesn’t effect them. After all, Time-Warner’s own internal memo “claims that (only) 5% of subscribers use over 50% of the total network bandwidth.” That number isn’t a surprise to most tech savvy people. After all, only 5% of the population has the inclination to use a Slingbox or download HD movies from iTunes or use the web version of Netflix… right now. The problem is that as these devices become more popular, more extensible, and more widely available due to price cuts (the iPod touch just announced a 32GB version for $499) more and more people are going to be putting more and more demands on bandwidth suppliers. And so, the industry sees an opportunity now, while the vast majority of users are still just plodding around checking their email and messaging each other on Myspace, to change the rules. And by the time they get it done, people will be clamoring for more bandwidth.
So what? How does this effect the library? Well, it’s always been our purpose to loan that which should be shared. And I see bandwidth as a resource just like any other. Actually I think of bandwidth as a technology, like binding, which allows for knowledge creation. If the binding corporations wanted to increase the cost of bindings because they saw that the future was going to be filled with bigger books libraries would be in an uproar! Now imagine if all the binderies had been built by the government…
Furthermore, I see disk technology dying. DVD’s, Blueray, Hard Drives, etc, they’re all great and they have served, and will serve, us very well for many years but flash is much better. A copy of Star Wars: A New Hope doesn’t have to be transferred to another solid medium before it can be shared. I don’t need a special bay on my handheld in order to play that movie. If I drop my flash drive it doesn’t break as easily. And on and on. Disks will be around for a while, but we’re seeing a major shift now that the price/storage capacity of flash memory is moving more or less in sync with Moore’s Law.
All of this is to say, that given the speed, quality, and availability of movies and large chunks of data across the network, combined with what I see as the inevitable choking down of home bandwidth, we as libraries have a great opportunity to become datacenters for our clients. I see a future where the student will come into the library, browse the catalog, download a movie from our catalog onto their handheld device, watch the movie wherever they want, and then use the movie in a group interaction where they collaborate with the film and say a 60″ plasma screen in order to complete an assignment from their professor. And it has to be libraries: Constitutionally, culturally, academically and realistically, libraries are the only place in the country where a person could do that and not have to charge the client.
And so, to that end, any new buildings that I get online will, hopefully, have the infrastructure to handle that type of internal data transfer. External transfer, while important, won’t be the end-all , but internally the pipe will be massive. Hopefully.
Ok, I have more reading to do… Look for some blogs on Learning Spaces, Information Seeking Behaviors, Space Issues and so on as I delve deeper into our future.