Recently, like many of you, I saw the new Star Wars film.
I was very impressed. I just checked, and the film has achieved the top grossing opening day of all time. It is expected to earn the top grossing everything of all time, at least until the next installment, and will clearly when all is counted, be worth tens of billions of dollars.
Now I say “film” because I am old. I also had a sister who ran a movie theater near our hometown in Southern California (back around the time of the original Star Wars trilogy). I remember the giant canisters of film sitting in the theater’s lobby to be picked up or dropped off, and that a real union projectionist would have to ‘thread up’ the film onto a projector. Now, there are still film theaters all over the world, some especially made for archival or new release screenings on this now sunsetting technology.
However, it is likely that most of you saw a digital copy of the film delivered in very high quality HD, Super HD 4K, or whatever prevailing standard is in your neck of the woods at the time that this essay reaches you…. these things change.
So what is a digital film? What does it consist of? Is it a hard drive or another data storage medium where the film is stored? Not likely. These days nearly all data is delivered over the ubiquitous and ill-defined internet. What the film is, is information.
These days we tend to call it data. Even when there was film, the value wasn’t in the film; it was in what the film contains. The film contains a lot of things: story, acting, direction, art, scenery, music, and so on. It is literally the work of thousands of people before it is ever released. At this point it is already worth some billions of dollars (In filmmaking this used to be called the negative cost, because it was the cost of the film before the film negative of the final prints was created, creating the positive film prints that were projected was considered a cost—I don’t know if the old terms are still in use).
After it is released it is the work of hundreds of thousands of people: marketing, reviews, press relations, distribution, theater operations, screening, popcorn. If you count the efforts of the fan communities, it is the work of hundreds of millions of people, including you and me. But the film itself, the motion picture called Star Wars The Force Awakens™ (Disney/Lucasfilm, 2015) is Data, and increasingly into the future it all will be.
Now, I don’t mean to sound like your grandfather, but I have lived through every phase of this revolution.
I have worked on a lot of it. Analog tape recording happens at the end of World War II, right before I was born. Video tapes came around when I was a young child, but wasn’t used in the home until my early twenties. The first home computers happened when I was in college. What we never knew was that this was going to change everything. But it did. (I am going to skip a lot of very interesting stuff right here because I have to leave something for the future)
Gold? Only valuable because of its scarcity and its trading value on commodities markets that are themselves data. Real Estate? Who says you own it? How can you tell? Is that trust deed the paper or the Data it contains? Energy? These are all valuable things, indeed. If you are dying of thirst you need water, not data. But in this still nascent century, it is DATA that will get you that water, and don’t you forget it!
All these things are valuable, and their order of importance will change with time. But for now your Data is the most important and most valuable thing you have. It is, for all intents and purposes, YOU. So we use this film (which we all at Cymmetria loved) as an example of just how valuable data has become. There are plenty of other examples and we will revisit these themes again and again.
But how is it in danger? Why do we need to protect it? What can be done to protect it? Stay tuned and keep coming back. We are here to tell you the entire tale, with nothing left out. As for today, December 23rd, 2015, have a joyous and peaceful winter season. Whatever you are celebrating, celebrate it with love.
David Perry, Huntington Beach, California