What happens if you take a file system and add time as a dimension?

Lifestreams.

I’ve just been reading an article in the WSJ about David Gelernter, a professor at Yale that published a book called “Mirror Worlds” in 1991.  In it he talks about lifecasting, which is effectively what happens when a series of objects are organized according to time.  As the article points out:

A lifestream is a way of organizing digital objects—photos, emails, documents, Web links, music—in a time-ordered series. A timeline, in essence, that extends into the past but also the future (with appointments, to-do lists, etc.). Facebook, with its “wall” constantly updated with postings by you and your friends, is a lifestream. Twitter’s feed is a lifestream. “Chatter,” developed by Salesforce.com for internal use by client companies, is a lifestream.

And this of course has implications for the future:

Web browsers will become stream browsers. Users will become comfortably accustomed to tracking and manipulating their digital objects as streams rather than as files in a file system.

There is no question being rid of the “file system” wouldn’t be a such a bad thing, but it will require people to give up on their property instinct. 

Think about music, although it developed through live music — ie “experiences” — it shifted to owning albums and CDs.  Music collections defined people.  Of course radio was available and what station you listened to also showed your style, the real focus was the collection.  The act of finding the music, buying it, listening to and sharing albums, and displaying it. 

With “personalized radio stations” and services like Spotify that focus shifts to curated playlists instead of collections.  Aside from the impact on music stores, it actually shifts how people think about ownership.  People are asked to revel in the demonstration of skill of putting together a great playlist of say 1920s early jazz, but there is no property there.  It is the shift from being an art collector to being an art curator.

Now of course being released of the burden of managing harddrives full of photos, documents and presentations would probably be welcome.  And if you take the concept to objects we all lease our cars, rent our houses and replace the random objects we lug around with us with temporary displays that demonstrate our personality at the moment. 

All nice but don’t we have 3,000 years of being taught the importance of property ownership?

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