Half-Baked: Streaming and Public Commons

Last time I went to the library to pick up a book, I noticed a man next to me getting a stack of DVDs. Given the context, my assumption was that this guy probably doesn’t pay for a streaming service, and that he probably couldn’t afford it, either. People like him, rely on the library to get entertainment and education. This encounter made me think about how technology affects libraries and other public commons.

Physical dead-tree books are not going away anytime soon, as the consumption experience of digital vs. physical is really different, but music and movies are experienced the same way regardless of the format. What happens when we stop making physical DVDs?

In a future where these assets are not physical, but bits on a server to be streamed on-demand, how does the public library work? Libraries exist because we agree to fund the purchase of physical assets that the library can then distribute. The infrastructure required to support this is relatively simple - librarians, land, shelves, a ledger. On the other hand, Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and others have collectively invested millions, if not billions, of dollars in building complex computing infrastructure to stream content to our homes reliably and without lag. How does the local library compete with that?

These streaming services rely on economies of scale and centralization in ways that the government administered library probably can’t come close to.

The “Half-Baked” series is my effort to write more, and put my thoughts out there on the internet, a brain dump, unedited. Just a few minutes of writing. If you find typos, or grammatical errors, let me know. They will be corrected as I notice them, but otherwise the content will remain as published.

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