Imagine what it must have been like when the first phonograph or gramophone entered a family's house at the turn of the 20th century. For the first time in human history, on-demand access to music by the world's most popular artists was available. Instead of having to travel to an opera house, you could summon stars like Enrico Caruso to perform in your home at any time of day or night. It was divine.
And other developments were forthcoming. After the First World War, radio emerged, bringing not only music, but also news and a wide range of entertainment from around the world into the house. It could not be any better than this, correct?
Nevertheless, technology continued to produce wonders. In June 1948, the 33 1/3 RPM long-playing album was introduced, allowing listeners at home to enjoy up to 22 minutes of continuous music by the world's top musicians. In the 1950s, FM radio with its high-fidelity transmission began to gain popularity, followed by a passion for high-end home audio equipment. This was quickly followed by the 8-track and cassette (personal music on the move, including in the vehicle! ), which were replaced by the compact disc, a high-tech plastic disc that promised flawless sound forever. At that time, we were confident that we had reached the maximum possible level of quality and convenience in terms of music consumption.
During the 1990s, the internet ushered in the digital era. With the advent of Napster and similar services in 1999, we were suddenly able to access all the music we desired at any hour of the day for FREE. If we desired to be a bit more conscientious, there was always the iTunes Music Store, which provided inexpensive, legal downloads from a selection that was constantly expanding. And all of these digital materials could be burned onto a CD-R for the car or loaded onto a portable device that would never skip regardless of how much it was shaken. (I recall impressing my neighbor with an RCA Lyra that could store — scream! — sixty minutes of music!)
With the introduction of the iPod Classic and its 160 GB hard drive, it became possible to carry approximately 40,000 songs in a device the size of a deck of cards. What could possibly be better than this?
Yet it did. While people started purchasing iPod Classics in 2009, a new phenomenon called streaming was gaining traction. Starting with Rhapsody in 2001 and bursting with the introduction of Spotify in 2008, these new companies promised access to millions, then tens of millions of music for practically free. A tune is currently playing in your brain. If you have an internet connection, you can begin listening in seconds.
Twenty years ago, what exists today was considered science fiction. In reality, we now take it for granted that we may listen to any music created by humans – around 75 million songs and counting — whenever, whenever, and on whatever device we choose. The peak of music consumption has been attained.
Already, scientists and engineers are attempting to eliminate the need to carry headphones or earbuds. Imagine, for a moment, that you could have a tiny device the size of a decorative stud implanted just behind your ear at a tattoo parlour, similar to how you would get your ears pierced. Using the concepts of bone conduction, which is currently a reality in military-grade headsets and commercial headphones, audio is beamed straight into the skull through a pocket-sized device. You hear the audio (music, a phone conversation, etc.), but because your ears are otherwise unoccupied, you can also clearly hear what is happening in the surrounding environment.
Next would be eliminating the requirement for any external device. Could our bodies be transformed into walking antennae? Or, what about having a personal algorithmic editor that serves up stuff based on how we're feeling or (dare I say) thinking? This topic has already been explored in a number of science fiction novels. I wouldn't write it off. With its patents on mood analysis, Spotify is already working in this route.
Elon Musk owns a company called Neuralink that investigates brain-computer interfaces, or implants. A device the size of a coin, intended to be implanted in the skull a few millimeters from the brain, is being evaluated. Musk envisions these implants as treatments for a variety of medical problems, but what's to say they couldn't also be utilized as audio entertainment receivers?
Fine. However, what about visual amusement? I would not exclude smart eyewear. Google Glass was intriguing but failed to catch on with consumers for a variety of reasons; nonetheless, its Enterprise Edition has found a place in organizations where hands-free tasks are crucial. The corporation is conducting extensive research and development in this area in preparation for competition from Apple, which is developing a pair of glasses-like wearables that could be released next year.
If the public accepts such glasses, pay close attention to them. Hands-free and completely transportable video entertainment, augmented reality, virtual reality, live streaming, and gaming will be ubiquitous. When this is combined with an external device (or, much better, an implant), the possibilities are unlimited.