Are We Already Living in an Intangible World?

Are we a society that is, moving from a Tangible Society to and Intangible Society? Perhaps we already have moved into it.

In simple terms Tangible is where you are capable of physically sensing the item by touch. Intangible is where you cannot touch and sense the item in your hands, you cannot hold it.

When I was a teenager I would spend all my extra money to purchase the newest albums that were available at the local record store. I would go down to the store and browse through thousands of albums; fighting my way through crowds doing the same thing as me.

Then on October 01, 1982 everything started to change. As the first CD Album was released to the public, Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. I remember telling people it would take 10 years for CD’s to replace vinyl. It took just a few months and albums started to quickly disappeared from the shelf’s.

The 33rpm record had survived 8 Tracks, Cassettes but it could not survive against the CD.

However the CD would itself run into intense competition. In 1999 SoundJam MP, was developed and released. Most people have never heard of SoundJam. However, SoundJam was renamed iTunes when Apple purchased it in 2000. On January 9, 2001, iTunes 1.0 was released at Macworld San Francisco and as they say the rest is history.

Although ITunes did not eliminate the CD, it did have a major effect on sales.

Today in 2012, there are almost no places to buy CD’s. Where you use to go to Tower Records, Wherehouse Records, FYI, and could get CD’s and Albums from years past, today you can usually only get the most modern CD’s. However that is usually in a small corner of a department store selling many other not related items.

Your music, use to be something we could purchase and physically hold in your hands. You could read the liner notes as you listen to music. It was tangible.

Today the majority of music is downloaded via the internet directly to our IPhone, or computers. The liner notes we use to read, are now a PDF file we read on the same computer or IPhone.

However, it’s not just music that are no longer tangible. Books use to be valuable. You could walk into a person’s home, spend 30 seconds in front of their bookcase and know their interests, and in many cases their intelligent level by the books they read. Now every major book store chain is gone, except for Barnes and Noble. Like music, people now download their books, newspaper, magazines to directly to their Nook, Kindle, Computer and even their IPhone.

Where books use to tangible, they have become intangible.

Over the past decade we have seen a large number of our tangible items move to intangible.

All these items use to be processions we would hold in our hands. Although you can still find these physically, it is getting harder and harder to do so. Now we download them, never actually touching them.

  • Music
  • Books
  • Newspapers
  • Video’s
  • Magazines.
  • Video Games
  • Banking
  • Letters – When is the last time you got a personal letter from a person, that was not part of a Christmas card or an email? I am betting its been years.

The US Postal service is cutting back on service and offices around the country laying off possibly 35000 employees. This is almost 100% brought on by people emailing one another as opposed to sitting down with pen and paper.

In time almost every store, almost every item you can think of which could be obtained through the internet, will be almost exclusively available by ordering it on-line by either downloading it, or having it shipped to you. It’s cheaper to them through the companies involved. Now companies can have one or two warehouses stocking all their items in the United States instead of several hundred stores.

Safeway is the 2nd largest grocery store chain in the United States behind Kroger. For years now, Safeway has let customers visit a virtual store on-line and order their groceries. Once ordered, they are hand delivered by Safeway employees directly to your kitchen table. The extra cost for having them put your order together and delivering it to you is just a few dollars.

So don’t think that Grocery stores won’t every move from a tangible product to an intangible product. It could happen much quicker than you can imagine.

Wal-Mart operates 8500 stores around the world. Now picture if Wal-Mart closed almost all those stores and customers ordered their items on-line, shipped to them over night. A few dozen warehouses around the world could replace all 8500 stores. Less real estate, stores, to deal with, thousands of fewer employees and much higher margins. If this proved successful, every major retailer in the world would follow suit. Of course, this does not take into effect that if Wal-Mart was to do this and the tens of thousands of Wal-Mart employees would be out of work.

Think of businesses such as Wal-Mart, and others following the business model that is already No stores, large warehouse and shipping, fewer employees, and big savings to the customer.

Television networks are moving more and more away from a set scheduled time of programing, to being available when you want it, on-line. Although TV was never really a tangible item, it was always there at a set time.

Is moving from a tangible to an intangible society a bad thing? Not at all. There was a time when the best transportation was a horse, and we survived and successfully started to move through the automobile, jet and space ages. People, much smarter than me, will come up new jobs for those whose jobs are gone. We just need to be prepared for what moving to an intangible society will bring, and possibly what we can lose out on.

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Written originally as a speech given for the Franklin Toastmasters Feb 25, 2012


About Brian Boulden

Living in beautiful Franklin, Tennessee where I spend time doing Voice Over's among other things. Member of Franklin Toastmasters. Bachelors of Art in Management from Saint Mary's College of California. Passion for politics, wine, new technologies, history, cruise ships and shortwave radio.
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