Building Bridges to the Digital World and Back

Every time I see someone with a film camera, it really makes me angry. Why would anyone choose a camera where it costs 25 cents to develop each new photo you take? Maybe the photo is blurry or dark. Still 25 cents to develop. Oh and you ran out of pictures so you need to buy more film. 25 cents per photo there too. It’s just so strange to me. For the love of God, why don’t you go digital?!?

One of the key reasons the digital age is changing the economics of the world around us is that it makes variable costs drop to nearly zero. What’s the cost of retaking that digital photo? 0 dollars. What about storing it (and a thousand others) online? 0 dollars. What if I want to open a shop on eBay and sell it? 0 dollars (cost, though revenue shares apply). Though there are fixed costs to most of these things, such as the cost of the camera, the digital age is enabling the era of abundance. There is little cost to offering more and that abundance in turn changes everything.

No need to rehash about the Long Tail. Let’s stick with photography. My roommate Brett takes his camera everywhere he goes, documenting every misstep … My college professor, David Dobkin, now Dean of Faculty at Princeton, takes a photo on average every 5 minutes to record his life. What were you doing at 11:45pm on July 13th 2006? It’s all right there.

It is even changing the film industry. There is so much less pressure to get the takes right when the film doesn’t cost you anything. Actors are more comfortable, the takes more precise to the director’s vision, and it also happens to be a better product.

Why shackle yourself to physical limitations? And what does that really mean? As we record, produce, and store more and more of our lives in digital format, what else can we do? What new bridges can we build from the physical world to the digital world? What about from the digital world back to the physical world?

Check out a 3D printer, a machine that actually takes digital models and manufacturers them just like your 2D laser printer right now. It fits on your desktop. Wow! Maybe one day I can recreate that 70s chair my parents had in the living room from my imagination. Or manufacture that cufflink that I lost. Or make my own souvenirs from the Galapagos, customized for the Tequila Boys. I could build my own world around me from the models in my head. Does that mean my memory and intelligence is truly in the digital world or is it a bridge itself?

What new applications can you see that bridge the physical and digital world?