Last week I gave 1,000 VHS video tapes to Goodwill Industries. These had been accumulated through 30 years of home movie watching, including tapes purchased for entertaining my 3 children.
It was startling to realize how many of these I had bought, and also surprising to learn they were basically valueless. Not because the content was outdated, because many are still popular titles. But rather because today the content someone wants can be obtained from a streaming download off Amazon or Netflix more conveniently than dealing with these tapes and a mechanical media player.
It isn’t just a shift in technology that made those tapes obsolete. Rather, a major trend has shifted. We don’t really seek to “own” things any more. We’ve become a world of “renters.”
The choice between owning and renting has long been an option. We could rent video tapes, and DVDs. But even though we often did this, most Boomers also ended up buying lots of them. Boomers wanted to own things. Owning was almost always considered better than renting.
Boomers wanted to own their cars, and often more than one. Auto renting was only for business trips. Boomers wanted to own their houses, and often more than one. Why rent a summer home, when, if you could afford it, you could own one. Rent a boat? Wouldn’t it be better to own your own boat (even if you only use it 10 times/year?)
Now we think very, very differently. I haven’t watched a movie on any hard media in several years. When I find time for video entertainment, I simply download what I want, enjoy it and never think about it again. A movie library seems – well – unnecessary.
As a Boomer, there’s all those CDs, cassette tapes (yes, I have them) and even hundreds of vinyl records I own. Yet, I haven’t listened to any of them in years. It’s far easier to simply turn on Pandora or Spotify – or listen to a channel I’ve constructed on YouTube. I really don’t know why I continue to own those old media players, or the media.
Since the big real estate meltdown many people are finding home ownership to be not as good as renting. Why take such a huge risk, paying that mortgage, if you don’t have to?
That this is a trend is even clearer generationally. Younger people really don’t see the benefit of home ownership, not when it means taking on so much additional debt. Home ownership costs are so high that it means giving up a lot of other things. And what’s the benefit? Just to say you own your home?
Where Boomers couldn’t wait to own a car, young people are far less likely. Especially in, or near, urban areas. The cost of auto ownership, including maintenance, insurance and parking, becomes really expensive. Compared with renting a ZipCar for a few hours when you really need a car, ownership seems not only expensive, but a downright hassle.
And technology has followed this trend. Once we wanted to own a PC, and on that PC we wanted to own lots of data – including movies, pictures, books – anything that could be digitized. And we wanted to own software applications to capture, view, alter and display that data. The PC was something that fit the Boomer mindset of owning your technology.
But that is rapidly becoming superfluous. With a mobile device you can keep all your data in a cloud. Data you want to access regularly, or data you want to rent. There’s no reason to keep the data on your own hard drive when you can access it 24×7 everywhere with a mobile device.
And the same is true for acting on the data. Software as a service (SaaS) apps allow you to obtain a user license for $10-$20/user, or $.99, or sometimes free. Why spend $200 (or a lot more) for an application when you can accomplish your task by simply downloading a mobile app?
So I no longer want to own a VCR player (or DVD player for that matter) to clutter up my family room. And I no longer want to fill a closet with tapes or cased DVDs. Likewise, I no longer want to carry around a PC with all my data and applications. Instead, a small, easy to use mobile device will allow me to do almost everything I want.
It is this mega trend away from owning, and toward a simpler lifestyle, that will end the once enormous PC industry. When I can do all I really want to do on my connected device – and in fact often do more things because of those hundreds of thousands of apps – why would I accept the size, weight, complexity, failure problems and costs of the PC?
And, why would I want to own something like Microsoft Office? It is a huge set of applications which contain dozens (hundreds?) of functions I never use. Wouldn’t life be much simpler, easier and cheaper if I acquire the rights to use the functionality I need, when I need it?
There was a time I couldn’t imagine living without my media players, and those DVDs, CDs, tapes and records. But today, I’m giving lots of them away – basically for recycling. While we still use PCs for many things today, it is now easy to visualize a future where I use a PC about as often as I now use my DVD player.
In that world, what happens to Microsoft? Dell? Lenovo?
The implications of this are far-reaching for not only our personal lives, and personal technology suppliers, but for corporate IT. Once IT managed mainframes. Then server farms, networks and thousands of PCs. What will a company need an IT department to do if employees use their own mobile devices, across common networks, using apps that cost a few bucks and store files on secure clouds?
If corporate technology is reduced to just operating some “core” large functions like accounting, how big – or strategic – is IT? The “T” (technology) becomes irrelevant as people focus on gathering and analyzing information. But that’s not been the historical training for IT employees.
Further, if Salesforce.com showed us that even big corporations can manage something as critical as their customer information in a SaaS environment on mobile devices, is it not possible to imagine accounting and supply chain being handled the same way? If so, what role will IT have at all?
The trend toward renting rather than owning is monumental. It affects every business. But in an ironic twist of fate, it may dramatically reduce the focus on IT that has been so critical for the Boomer generation.