The Future of Clutter

If you’re looking to predict what technologies will be obsolete soon, visiting the Kodak booth at CES is not a bad place to start.

I came to this realization as I was watching a demo from one of Kodak’s partners, Unibind. Unibind is demonstrating a new machine at CES that allows retailers to create a hardbound book out of pictures taken by a customer in a manner of minutes. The machine sells to the retailer for less than $10,000, and it was actually a pretty cool demo (with apologies for the poor smartphone snapshots):

unibinding a book pic

Now, I don’t know the first thing about this market, and perhaps Unibind’s new product will be successful for them in the short term. In the long term, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Watching this demo, it struck me that in the not-too-distant future, everything that can be delivered into my house digitally will be delivered that way.

We’re in the midst of this transition now: My family no longer gets a daily newspaper because we read newspapers on the iPad. We’re in the process of eliminating magazine subscriptions for the same reason. Music and movies no longer come on round plastic discs but are downloaded and, increasingly, streamed from the cloud. Negatives and prints of our photos disappeared long ago. Board games are being replaced by electronic versions. We don’t keep catalogs and junk mail because when we want to buy something, we go to a web site. And although I have an emotional attachment to books, in the last nine months I’ve transitioned the majority of my reading to my Kindle.

Ultimately, we’ll have far less clutter floating around our family rooms, even as there continues to be a proliferation in the number of devices to read, view and listen to all this content. Even the mess of cables that once accompanied these devices is slowly shrinking, owing both to standardization on a smaller set of connectors and the accelerating shift to wireless data and inductive charging. The clean, minimalist look of modernist architecture was just 50 years ahead of its time.

So thanks, but a coffee table book filled with pictures of my kids just feels so … 2010.