According to the media hype, services are the future. Your games, films and books will be stored in the ‘cloud’ and accessed across multiple devices. Your car will apparently be part of some ‘fleet’ of self driving cars rather than used solely for yourself, and everything from your TV to your bank will be offered by some ‘startup’ or another operating in the ‘sharing economy’.
And on the surface, it sounds like a good deal. After all, who wouldn’t want a car that could just pick you up wherever? Or a way to access thousands of songs, books or games on a single device, no carrying cases or space needed?
Isn’t that the best way to access those things?
No it isn’t. It isn’t because each and every one of them takes away your right to truly own the things you’re using, turning you into a perpetual renter in the process.
And that’s something I will never go along with. For a multitude of reasons.
Like for example, how anything you buy is yours to keep forever. That’s it. No more thinking required. You buy something, you get to use it for as long as you want, whenever you want.
It’s an ideal that keeps things usable for decades, and lets people experience things released far before the time. Look at the retro gaming market for example. Or the other second hand markets for things like older books, films, TV show recordings, music, etc. They all work fine today, and can be enjoyed by people who grew up long after their release.
But that doesn’t happen with services, and to some degree, it doesn’t even happen with digital distribution setups eitheer. No, instead old products get delisted all the time, with you being unable to do absolutely anything about it. Like a certain game you’re playing on Google Stadia? Well I hope you get to enjoy it now, since it may very well not be there in a year or two. Maybe the team behind it got a better deal from a competing service, and moved their products there. Perhaps their publisher decided a sequel would sell better with the original taken out of the picture. Or maybe the whole company went broke, and the rights are tied up in litigation as bailiffs sell off the business’ assets. Either way, on a service like this, it’s just gone, possibly forever. Without you having any practical way of getting it back.
So that’s one problem right there. But it’s not just tied to media products like games, books or songs.
No, it’s a problem with any type of service offering you one of these ‘rental’ type schemes. Such as those carpool esque ride sharing services that some people think will replace automobile ownership.
Yeah you know the story. Apparently in ten years or so people won’t own cars, they’ll get ‘access’ to a fleet of cars controlled by a company that pick up passengers rather than waiting in car parks for them to leave work or what not. Apparently this is super cool and futuristic and ‘environmentally friendly’, since it eases traffic congestion and takes extra cars off the road.
But do you really trust it? Do you really trust the idea of a company like this owning ‘your’ car and just leasing it out to random people?
Cause I sure don’t. What happens if said company goes under, like these venture capital backed startups often do?
Oh wait, you probably lose your main method of transport. That doesn’t happen with normal cars, where the company involved can file for bankruptcy and their products stay perfectly usable.
Same goes with any other similar issues, like a fault in the software running in said car, or the company getting into hot water legally. All those things could leave you without a car, whereas a traditional one would fine.
And let’s not forget the infrastructure aspect either. Oh no, every ‘service’ I’ve seen has been a consumer disaster there too.
Like all these streaming services that require decent internet speeds and a steady connection. Yeah, good luck using those in many parts of the world.
Meanwhile my traditionally owned games work fine. I can load up and play The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey regardless of whether my internet works, or even regardless of whether Nintendo’s own online services are still being maintained altogether.
Plus it also doesn’t matter what the company or general public think of me either. If I rally about every mistake Nintendo ever makes, then it doesn’t matter. My games still work fine regardless of their thoughts on me as a person.
Same goes with the creators of everything else I use in day to day life. Apple has no control over if my Macbook works. Samsung can’t remotely brick the TV for transgressions, and the people who make the snacks I eat can neither stop me buying them nor eating them, regardless of how much they disagree with my political views on the situation in Hong Kong or Brexit or Trump’s presidency.
By buying and owning things, you control them. By using a ‘service’, you let the company control you.
Yet it’s not just companies that are the problem there. No, the move towards ‘services’ leaves you vulnerable to every Tom, Dick and Harry with a Twitter presence too.
Since from what I’ve seen, virtually every company in existence that sells an ongoing ‘service’ to people will immediately fold under the pressure of a social media controversy. Say one thing others consider ‘sexist’ or ‘racist’ or ‘offensive’, and pretty much everyone from Cloudflare to Google to Facebook will likely nuke your entire presence there.
And I suspect that’ll only get worse the more services people start using. Your streaming services, your car rental service, your grocery delivery service; I can see a future where all of those will cut you off without warning the minute some mob of angry harpies starts screaming about your ‘offensiveness’ online.
This means that now not only will you need to worry about the future of any service you use, plus technical problems associated with it, plus any personal politics that may clash with those of its owners, but also what the court of public opinion thinks of you too. Do the public want you (maybe metaphorically) burnt at the stake? Are you in the midst of the dreaded trial by media? If so, say goodbye to pretty much every service you use, since almost all of them will cut you off in three seconds flat to save their own sorry ass.
That can’t happen with physical products. Companies can’t physically take back products belonging to controversial people or groups, nor can they stop people selling their products to them to begin with. Again, it’s simply safer and more practical to go with physical products you own here.
Still, let’s not forget empty legal threats either. Generally the bigger the service, the more likely they are to fold the second a large company demands them to as well. See YouTube, where copyright strikes and takedowns have zero correlation to whether a video is really infringing.
So anything you use there can be removed at a moment’s notice, just because some corporation wants it removed, and your provider is more interested in pleasing said corporation’s big team of lawyers than their actual users.
Buying stuff outright avoids that problem, in the same way self hosting your work online usually avoids it as well. It makes it so your critics have to deal with you directly rather than going above your head to your provider, and lets you enjoy the protections of the law as it is written rather than some nebulous company friendly terms of service.
And we’re only scratching the surface with the service downsides here. Let’s not forget that:
- In almost all cases, a monthly service costs more than buying the equivalent product outright, especially in the long run. Why do you think the likes of Adobe are really so keen to move in that direction?
- It’s also often a security risk too. Services are a much bigger target for hackers than individually hosted instances are, and can allow for malware to distributed on a larger scale. That self driving car you got from Tesla may not be super secure, but at least a hacker would have to target you individually and (likely) get close to the vehicle to do so. A whole self driving fleet run by a service could probably be compromised (and then weaponised) in one go.
- Anything you own can be fully customised, whereas anything you rent from a service cannot. It’s like the difference between owning a house (which you can remodel as much as you like) and renting an apartment (which you can’t modify much without the landlord’s permission).
- You can sell or lend out things you own, whereas you often can’t with those from a service. Remember that whole video Sony made poking thing at Microsoft’s DRM in the Xbox One? Yeah, like that.
- Plus if it’s open source, you get even more freedoms than ever before. You can go and fork the project if the creators are doing a bad job with it, sell/distribute it without their permission, refuse any license changes (if you’re a contributor), get guaranteed access to the source code to make any modifications you wish, etc.
So you can stick your services. You can forget about your video game streaming and music streaming, your self driving car fleets and your Epcot style smart homes, I won’t ever use any of them.
Instead, I’ll stick to buying everything I want and need outright, and that’s it. And I recommend everyone else does likewise. That’s the only way you can maintain control over your life, rather than let corporations and the whims of the public control you.
Thanks for reading!