The Loss of Urgency

17 Jan 2012

Steam, the Kindle and Netflix are three radically different technologies – the first is a digital distributor for video games, the second is an electronic book reader, and the third is a movie rental service – but they all suffer from the same technological revenge: a loss of urgency. They are technologies designed with the intent to give one instantaneous access to media. Whenever a user wishes to read a certain book or watch a specific movie, all that is required is a few easy clicks: Steam has over 2,000 games within its catalogue; there are 300,000 books available for access on the Kindle; and Netflix has fifty-five million DVDs to ship or stream to its subscribers. These are technologies of access: they allow the user to easily and quickly view specific media at the discretion of the user.

Compare this with stone and mortar libraries or Blockbusters – distributors who force users to compete for access to the same products – and it becomes easy to view the technologies of access as allowing their users more freedom. They provide users with more options, more choices. Inherent to this freedom, though, is a form of technological revenge.

From the moment of revelation where it is understood that one can view anything whenever one desires, technologies of access are transformed into tools of procrastination: the user no longer has any need to read The Man Without Qualities today, because one’s Kindle will always be able to access it later; it is unnecessary to watch Barton Fink now, as one can simply order it on Netflix at another time. Access allows users the freedom to choose both what they want and when they want it, but instant access gives the user more freedom to actively choose not to do something.