Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Unbundled Identities

I’ve talked lots in the past about the fragmentation of traditional media because of digital technology. With everything in bits instead of old-fashioned analog signals, we can now do things like cut out the junk with our Tivo. The interesting thing about the fragmentation, however, was that it was primarily happening on the consumer side. If the TV networks and radio stations had it their way, we wouldn’t be able to cut out the commercials or download podcasts. On the contrary, in their perfect little world they own all the channels we watch, controlling the content and charging top dollars to advertisers for our impressions. Thank goodness the world isn’t perfect.

Instead, the media landscape is being forced to pull apart it’s perfect little packages. New technology is making them consider offering some of their packages unbundled: TV shows sans commercials or even pieces of shows, individual songs and radio show segments to name a few. As part of his TV News in a Postmodern World series, Terry Heaton examines some “The Remarkable Opportunities of Unbundled Media” in his new essay.

Remarkable they are, if they’re willing to let go of control. Heaton covers everything from the boring “put ads in or around the items” to the more interesting “help users rebundle,” citing things like the Los Angeles Times’ branded RSS aggregator. Media companies have huge opportunities to cash in on this unbundled media revolution if they’re willing to take a huge leap and actually cede some control to the user.

It’s not just the media implications I’m interested in relation to unbundled media, however. I think Heaton has hit on something that extends beyond just the mediascape. Unbundled is a great term for what’s happening all over the place, as digital technology both continues to move into every sphere of our physical world as well as having a huge impact on our culture as a whole.

As the web continues to become a more and more social place, increasingly our identities are becoming unbundled. As opposed to meeting me in person, for example, where I am obviously a person made up of many interests, online it is possible to see my interests individually and then find out about the person. Or, not know of the person at all.

Let me explain (because I’m pretty sure I’m not making any sense): You could be visiting Flickr and find my photos. At that point, I am little more than a set of photographs which you can try to piece together to form some cohesive picture of my personality. The same for del.icio.us, where you can see what I bookmark and try to understand who I am, but not get the full picture. Even those of you that read this blog don’t truly know me (although you’re probably the closest). My point is that, before digital technology, regular people were not unbundled like this. We generally traveled as a whole. Yeah, we were different people in different environments, there would have been work Noah, brother Noah, friend Noah, etc., but still there was a physical presence anchoring everything. But now, it’s like we’re all media personalities, who have always been unbundled in one way or another. (An actor, for instance, plays a part from which you could try to glean some insights into their personality, but you would be hard pressed to truly understand who they are.)

It’s a fascinating shift and brings me back to the idea of a digital lifestyle aggregator, which would essentially bring together these elements of you and help you construct a more holistic digital identity. What’s even bigger, though, is what happens when people take this shift offline. I’m not sure I can comprehend this fully at the moment (I’m feeling pretty sick and out of it to be honest), but I think it could extend to something like wearable computing which contains some record of our interests and specializations and communicates that to other users (and idea I discussed with the other Noah last week).

I’m sure there’s more, but until this fever passes, I’m going to have to turn to all of you for input.

November 9, 2005