How to rematerialize life and work out of the Blackholepad?

le 20 mars 2013 par


The Blackholepad, or better, the black hole pads if one considers that my smartphone, my tablet and my computer do communicate behind the scene and exchange all what they have absorbed, have helped me gain several square meters of space at my home within the last few years, and at more than 10.000 euros the square meter in Paris, it was a good investment to buy them!

The Blackholepad has absorbed an incredible number of tools and accessories, more or less voluminous, within the last few years. Here is a list “à la Prévert”, not really organized, of what has disappeared into the Blackholepad.

My calculator, my diary, my notebook, my calendar, my address book, my mail (including letters, postcards from my travelling friends, Christmas cards) and my mailbox; my files including my tax receipts, my bills, my paychecks, and therefore my filing cabinets; my music including my CDs, my LPS and therefore my record shelves but also my CD players, my radio, my stereo and my pieces of furniture on which they were standing; my pictures and my photo albums but also my camera, my video camera, my movies, my video projector, my DVDs, my DVD player, even my TV!; my geographic maps, my city maps, my compass and therefore my GPS; my encyclopedia, my dictionaries, my grammars, all of my reference books; my mobile phone and my fixed telephone line, my video conference system, many of my travels because I can video conference from the Blackholepad, and, for the remaining travels, my airplanes or train tickets have already gone into the hole; my game boards for chess or for go or any other game, even my dominoes, not even speaking of my video games that used to come within cassettes and required a special equipment…

Without mentioning my gym trainer, my diet trainer, and even part of my music trainer.

And I have certainly forgotten a lot of things in this list.

Currently, it is going on and absorbing my computer itself  – because I use it less and less and my tablet takes over – , my printer is going the same way because I don’t need to print anymore, my scanner also. My desk itself is disappearing; my health monitors are going; the Blackholepad has also even started to eat my reading glasses because it is so easy to enlarge any page or any font… It is also currently fast absorbing my books and my bookshelves.

Soon the Blackholepad will absorb my memory via a tool called life logging  that records continuously my activities via a camera and a microphone (it will be convenient if Alzheimer strikes), my credit cards, my wallet, and probably my ID card and my passport.

I hope it will not absorb my toothbrush but I am not that sure. Geeks are certainly working on ways to produce ultrasonic tooth cleaning waves out of the next version of the pad…

But the Blackholepad is also a great retrieving tool. It is easy, within a few finger clicks, to have access to everything I had whenever I need it if and when I still need it. Wherever I am!

Except that, for some items, I would still like them to « jump » at me in a serendipitous way, and they don’t necessarily do that easily. It is the case in particular for my music, my pictures and my books. For my music, there is a wonderful invention, the shuffle. Listening to music by shuffling all one’s music brings constantly nice memories, forgotten melodies, and actually it works better than in ancient times when we had to go along the CDs shelves for exploring our music. For the pictures, there is also another possibility, mostly convenient on computers but soon available on tablets: the screen savers that retrieve pictures from the Blackholepad at random. Again it is better than all those albums sleeping under dust or those pictures stuck in shoeboxes. Old memories jump at us through the screen every time it pauses.

But what about my reading books i.e. all the books others than encyclopedia, dictionaries and reference books that one does check whenever in need of information I can’t read them again and again as I would with music. I can’t have them appear on the screen regularly to remind me that they are here and that I should not forget their content or the lessons of life they gave me. In the past, when we had bookshelves and book piles all over the place we were constantly surrounded by them, we lived with them; we were reminded of their content by their very physical presence. How to rematerialize my books at an era where e-books are the future? You will tell me that the designs of the e-book readers’ screens all tend to represent a traditional bookshelf and that it will help me to browse through my library as I did with the real one. But forget it! We keep only on the active e-shelf the e-books we are currently reading. After that, they fall into the Blackholepad. But I believe in e-books strongly, and I am really convinced they represent the future of the cultural diffusion of written knowledge. I am so convinced that I invested in two digital publishing houses, one for business books (Boostzone editions), one for literature books (Emoticourt editions). But doing so I also discovered that this dematerialization of books is not only a problem for me as a reader who expects to still rediscover regularly the forgotten or the unread books in my library. It is also an issue for bookshop keepers, for authors and for book givers.

Bookshop keepers might well disappear if they have nothing to show, as did the music or video shops and as did the video renting shops. It is sad because part of the purchase was done on touching books (and the recommendation system of Amazon is great but not as good as roaming through the piles of books at random) and on their personal recommendations, which they gave by holding physical books in their hands while mentioning their qualities. For authors it is even more of a drama. They can’t easily « sell » e-books when they organize a signature or give a conference, worse, they can’t sign them! For readers obviously the lack of a physical signature and its few accompanying words is also quite frustrating. Finally for book givers it is an other drama: a book remains a great gift, full of content, remaining as a souvenir, conveying for ever the emotion of the relationship between the giver and the receiver, bearing itself often a signature and a caring message. How could an e-book convey all that?

I have been looking at several rematerialization solutions. The first one is still virtual but works for me as a user, it consists in putting the covers of books within a file of pictures, it then becomes feasible to have them shuffled like other pictures on the screen saver. I am sure an App will soon do that without the need to capture the cover pages as pictures. An other one is to print on demand whenever a book is to be given at a conference, for a gift, or for a signature. It works, it might sound absurd to print an e-book but it could lead to us owning physically only books that we received as gifts or by meeting the author. Why not? In that case the book is again a valuable object for something additional to its content. A book would become a rare object, again and paradoxically at a time when its potential de-multiplication has become infinite. Other solutions will appear soon for sure.

What are the implications of the Blackholepad on business and management?

From an economic perspective, we all know that this massive dematerialization means less jobs because the number of jobs behind the Blackholepads and the Apps replacing the goods has nothing to do with the number of those who were employed for the production, storage, distribution, destruction of the disappeared products, from cameras to printers, to CDs, to books to calculators to GPSs, etc.

It also means the producers have to reinvent new goods and services. We will not have bookshelves anymore or much less if we store only books with a high emotional value, but may be we will have shelves for our 3D printed arts, etc.

From a management perspective, documents have been dematerialized for quite a while already, servers for databases are now mostly external rather than internal, few companies still have a documentation center having books and files on shelves. Large savings on a lot of equipment that will not be bought anymore should happen. The Bring Your Own Device movement (BYOD) for example is also a major potential cost saving for corporations. Most importantly however, management will be impacted because the access to work and workers, the access to collaboration, the access to collaborative virtual artifacts (like Wikipedia), the very nature of what an office is (or rather is not anymore), the very nature of people interactions will be challenged.

As an example, the corporate directory will disappear not only in the cloud but also for good because Linkedin, a much more complete and up to date tool, will replace it. Even more deeply, full departments will physically and administratively disappear from the company, outsourced progressively, collectively or by every employee, to the blackhole and the cloud via virtual work. It has started with design departments, secretarial staff, etc. in particular for small and medium companies.

In that context, the above example of the rematerialization of e-books should lead us to a broader thinking about rematerialization in the work context. The recent decision by Yahoo to ask individuals to stop remote working and to come back to the office responds exactly to the same logic as my small book example: how can individuals get creative via serendipity if they are not physically confronting their ideas? If they are not “jumping” at each other? The 0 or 1 solution (all remote or suddenly all physical) is probably a bit absurd but it has the merit of having kicked off a real and necessary debate, not on whether or not interactions will be more or less dematerialized but on how and when we will find ways to rematerialize them.

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