Josh Parnham

On The Perceived Worth Of Physical Objects & Their Digital Counterparts

Christmas. That one day every year where people around the world engage in the custom of gift giving, a seemingly important practice that has apparently existed since 0AD. Alas, without diving deep into the historical context of this tradition, I wanted to discuss something I noticed at my family’s Christmas celebrations this year.

As I’m sure is the same with many other people in modern western cultures, on the 25th of December my extended family will get together and feast together on lunch, before discussing the presents they received under the Christmas tree and perhaps even gift some more presents to each other.

Looking at the many gifts given and received; DVDs, iPods, iPads and Kindles were commonplace, as well as physical books and other miscellaneous stocking staffers, I even saw some CDs. But within this whole gift-giving affair, I found it peculiar that not a single digital gift was given. This is despite the fact that most of the family watches content on their Apple TVs, listens to music on iOS devices and reads books on their iPads. Discounting computers, there isn’t even a functioning DVD player in my household. It seems (in my extended family at least), that the act of gift giving must be a physical handing over of a real-world object - in 2012, why is this still the case?

One might assume - as I did initially - that this is simply a relic from the days when physical media was the only way to consume the aforementioned content, and that when the younger generations (who’ve grown up with Netflix, eBooks, etc) will be happy to exchange digital content when the time comes for them to do so.

However, this got me thinking about a fairly universal human quality that we see demonstrated often in society these days - the perception that digital content isn’t as valuable than that very same content manifested in a physical medium. We see this with digital music, movies, ebooks (and in the last couple of years especially), applications.

It seems to be something inherent in the human psyche, that the tangibility of objects is an incredibly important factor during our evaluating an object’s value. This is one of the reasons why the incredibly popular “less than a cup of coffee” analogy for the pricing of mobile apps breaks down.

I don’t know how we can remedy this obvious flaw in the human condition, or if it’s even possible - I just hope that one day we’ll overcome this illogical state of mind and become more rational is our assessment of value. Just something to ponder.

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