One key to longevity as a pundit is to issue forecasts that can not be readily checked. So here is one for the time capsule: Two hundred years from now, give or take, the robot-people of Earth will return to the early years of the 21st century as the start of a remarkable renaissance in art and culture.
That may sound unlikely to many people in the present. In the last couple of decades, we have seen how technology has jeopardized the old order in cultural companies, including the decimation of the music business, the passing of the cable subscription, the annihilation of papers and the laying to waste of independent bookstores.
But something surprising has happened.
In the last few decades, and with higher intensity in the previous 12 months, people began paying for online content. They are doing so at an accelerating rate, and on a reliable, recurring program, frequently through subscriptions. And they are paying for everything.
You have already heard about the increase of social networking platforms — things like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Spotify and Apple Music. They’re subscribing to podcasts, comedians, zany YouTube celebrities, novelists and comic book artists. They’re even paying for information.
It’s hard to comprehend how big a deal that is. Over 20 years after it first caught mainstream attention and started to destroy everything about how we fund civilization, the digital economy is finally beginning to coalesce around a sustainable method of supporting content. If subscriptions keep taking off, it will not only mean that some of your favourite artists will thrive on the web. It might also result in a profound shift in how we find and encourage new cultural talent. It might cause a broader range of artists and art and forge closer connections between the men and women who make art and people who enjoy it.