This post isn’t about the psychedelic trance composers Digital Samsara (although if you dig that kind of thing, they really are the best).
This post is about samsara in the digital age. And by samsara I refer to the Hindu concept of an endless continuation of births, deaths and re-births. Samsara is intrinsic to the Hindu spiritual world and samsara is also the cornerstone of western Science. Evolution and astronomy describe forms of samsara. Even the human condition – our social and cultural mores and constructions – are samsara. They ebb and flow and wither and transpose without end.
The only certain thing is change, eh?
Digital samsara is the inevitable demise and rebirth of concepts and systems in the digital domain. We must accept this. Whatever format or feature or function that you adore will eventually disappear and you will never see it again.
Sadness over the “loss” is understandable. Something dreadfully important – something cosmic and universal! – went away forever. We grieve. Then we move on. And as we do, new forms appear and hold us spellbound. We fall in love again.
We are all used to this cycle. It describes our lives. But there is one aspect of our lives that is utterly intolerant of samsara.
The continual generation of wealth doesn’t work well with samsara. It’s hard to bank on cataclysmic change. Widget producers won’t give you a big hug when you inform them that widgets are out and whachits are in. And those smug whachit manufacturers will shit a brick when whatchits go out of style and some young punk replaces them with gidgets.
Enormous fortunes are won and lost on single events (blips, really) along the continual line of samsara. Only the craftiest, wisest thinkers can maintain their fortunes through a cycle of death and re-birth. Such people are very rare. Steve Jobs is one and he survived just two cycles. Now he has joined the NeXT project himself.
The trouble with samsara is its inevitability and its impassivity. It can’t be cajoled or convinced. It can’t be bought off. It just…is.
The wise among us understand and accept this. Our business venture will not grow exponentially forever and guarantee us wealth and happiness for generations. Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.
Yet strangely, it is this very belief that pervades corporate concepts of the digital realm and threatens the balance of our digital lives. There are some who believe that the digital samsara can be forced to obey crumbling old rules of wealth creation. They use power, threats, money and guns to force their way. They will lose in the end. But we must ask how many will suffer before that day comes.
Like children, the RIAA and MPAA want to continue suckling the warm familiar taste of mother’s milk. They cannot imagine a world without $17.99 CD’s and $12.00 movie tickets. For decades, they have had free reign to bilk artists, cheat writers and gouge consumers. Things have been so good for so long on this blip, this birth, this life.
But that life played its hand. Ratcheting up prices, monopolizing distribution and collecting radio stations are the modern business equivalent of performing a heart and liver transplant on a 99 year old man. It is fighting samsara, not surrendering to it. Despite all these efforts, the body is still dying.
A wise man would have looked at the scope and reach of the Internet and realized that a new era in human expression was presenting itself. The RIAA and MPAA, like children, did not see this. It was like a heaven of wine and caviar had appeared before them, but they insisted on continuing to suckle their mother’s teat
But not everyone was so blind.
It was technologists who understood samsara and paved the way. From nappy-headed wunderkinds like Shawn Fanning to inscrutable geniuses like Steve Jobs, these were the people who saw plenty. Rather than grieve for the loss of the old ways, they welcomed the beauty of the new ways.
This cannot be stressed enough: the monetization of online content distribution was pioneered by programmers, not the music/film industry.
Rather than greet this new creature, the entertainment cartels have entered digital samsara screaming and kicking. Like children torn from the breast, they cry.
It isn’t coming back. The 99 year old man is dying. You are too old for your mother’s milk. Do not grieve. A great rebirth has occurred. Celebrate it!
Wise people have discovered that there is profitability in the new medium. It’s a different system, though. Rather than convincing 100,000 people to spend $10 on your content, you must now convince 1,000,000 people to spend $1. In all likelihood, the volume will not be there to realize your prior years of obscenely high profits. But the new medium operates more efficiently and cheaply, so your costs can go down.
In the short term, this will hurt. In the long term, purveyors of content that people want will become fantastic gatekeepers of global intelligence. In the long term, the money will come.
But you must be patient and wise. The RIAA and MPAA are neither.
Right now, the raging child is threatening to destroy the medium rather than exploit it. The child wants its Mommy back and if Mommy is gone then it will fashion a new Mommy from the body of the woman that should have been the wife.
All around the world, the entrenched industry is seeking to stop digital samsara and somehow stifle human progress. SOPA, ACTA, etal. are the cries of children who have been tossed into the backyard pool by a no-nonsense Dad. Swim, damn you!
As we all know, samsara does not yield. Digging in your heels and generating friction is merely adding tension to the tectonic plates of society. There will be outrages and destruction. And none of it will slow or limit the next set of deaths and re-births. BBS > USENET > Napster > Kazaa > Limewire > BitTorrent. A natural evolution moves in sync with digital samsara, buffeted by the **AA into unusual habitats, but continuing to grow and improve and morph as necessary.
All the weapons in the arsenal of billionaires fail to make a dent. DRM and HDCP burst, then weaken, then dissolve in the face of perpetual change.
Yes, pirates sail the Seven Seas. But in the digital realm, there is no need to damage and plunder; one need only understand the sea and the wind. The pirates are fine sailors and can see the changing winds and read the stars while their pursuers struggle to stay afloat. The money-changers curse the storms that the pirates ride out in quiet bays.
Many years ago, Nordic people settled in Greenland. Rather than live in harmony with the land, they exploited it for wood and domestic animals. They refused to subsist on fish and sea mammals like the natives did in the north. In fact, the settlers sometimes hunted the natives for sport. The natives tried to explain to the settlers that Greenland was not Scandinavia; samsara dictated a different approach.
Eventually, the Greenland settlements collapsed. The natives, however, still thrive.
In digital samsara, the pirates are not evil men bent on plunder. They are denizens of the media and are trying to teach the “settlers” how to live there. But the settlers want fresh meat and crops grown in perfect rows. They want the Old World. They refuse to learn how to survive in the new one.
The settlers will cause some deaths and they will destroy some things, but they will eventually fail. They will collapse. Samsara will go on.
It is the way.
Worth noting: while writing this missive, I was told I was being laid off from my job after seven stable and productive years. I grieve, but I also realize that this death will lead to a re-birth and I look forward to that new face.