“Instead of tightly coupled and controlled distribution and marketing, social media redefines how content – any content, broadly defined – is discovered, promoted and ultimately consumed. While a historical shift, this newer process does not posit that content is any less valuable. Indeed the opposite is proving to be true. But the way that content gets distributed is being disrupted, redefined and reimagined.”—TribecaFilm.com | Future of Film | The Faster We Go, The Rounder We Get (via tedr)
Amazon Studios Offers Free and Licensed Library of 2,000 Songs
Amazon Studios—which invites filmmakers and screenwriters to submit their works for discovery—announces the release of 2000 free and licensed movie-production music tracks for any registered and signed-in member on their site. Amazon Studios says they added the feature: “in order to enhance the overall viewing experience of the movies they upl ..read more..
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — With more than 500 million active users, the population of Facebook exceeds that of many countries. And like any empire, Facebook has its own currency — one that got a big boost with this week’s launch of Facebook Deals. Facebook’s new daily deals offering, available in five cities now with plans to expand to more, puts it in ..read more..
Spotify Lands Major Studio Deals, Prepares To Launch Movie Service
Spotify continues to negotiate with Facebook over its long promised U.S. launch. But that isn’t the only thing the music streaming service has been up to. They’ve negotiated a number of deals with major movie studios to offer users streaming movies as well as music, a source in the industry tells us.
Earlier this week we reported that YouTube pl ..read more..
Lots of attention was paid to our decision to license the exclusive rights to premiere Media Rights Capital’s “House of Cards” series, planned for late 2012.
Rather than a shift in strategy towards original programming, our decision was driven by a desire to test a new licensing model using a small portion of our content budget. Serialized dramas, like the original BBC series on which “House of Cards” is based, have been big favorites on Netflix and we want to confirm our theory that because we are click-and-watch rather than appointment viewing, we can efficiently build a big audience for a well-produced serialized show. This represents slightly greater creative risk than we’ve taken in the past, but we think it’s reasonable given the popularity of the original BBC show on Netflix and the modest percentage of our content budget it represents. If “House of Cards” is popular enough on Netflix so that the fee we’ve paid is in line with that of other equally popular content on Netflix at the time, we’ll consider it a success.
Ideally, we’ll license two or three similar, but smaller, deals so we can gain confidence that whatever results we achieve are repeatable.
Bold Concept Unites Leica i9 Camera With an iPhone
Would you like to have a cameraphone that doesn’t make compromises when it comes to camera-related features, image quality and functionality as a smartphone? The folks from Black Design Associates would like that too, so they created a concept that essentially turns an iPhone 4 case into a full-fledged camera.Place the iPhone inside the “case” ..read more..
Studios, exhibitors and filmmakers are arguing about the future of the business, and whether people in coming years will be more likely to watch movies in theaters or in increasingly sophisticated home setups mimicking the quality, immediacy and, perhaps, cost, of today’s theatrical experience.
Last week, four studios — Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Warner Brothers — took the first step in their arrangement with DirecTV to release films two months after their theatrical release.
Old hands in the film business point out that past changes in viewing technology did not bring the calamity that was sometimes predicted.
“I think it will do harm,” Sidney J. Sheinberg, who was president of MCA in Mr. Wasserman’s era, said of the new on-demand plan — yet Mr. Sheinberg also acknowledged that he had been wrong in seeing videocassettes as a threat, rather than a boon, to the studios in the early 1980s.
The way Krugman calmly eviscerates the Ryan Plan shows that Republicans live in an alternate dimension, kinda scary
At the board, Krugman started sketching the American government’s expenditures, projected into the future and divided into three subgroups—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and “everything else,” which means defense, education, foreign aid, and much more. In 2010, “everything else” required 12 percent of GDP. By 2030, under the Ryan plan, it would get only 5.25 percent, and by 2050, 3.5. Krugman had run the numbers, and he said that the last time that figure had even approached 3.5 percent was during the Coolidge administration, when the country looked radically different—when, for instance, it had effectively no standing military. The Ryan plan made other policy choices that were to Krugman socially corrosive: It would, for instance, effectively end Medicare as we know it. But it was the reduction of “everything else” to a third of its current share that seemed simply impossible. There was a long silence in the classroom. “This is a pretty amazing number,” Krugman said. “I try to present both sides, but this is pretty hard to understand.”
Ensuring that Netflix maintains it’s growth – and some analysts predict it will close out the year with north of 30 million subs – is its embrace of digital streaming, where there isn’t much competition yet. Analysis from NPD, in fact, suggests 61 percent of all movies viewed through the Internet are done so courtesy of Netflix. That’s eight times more than Comcast, the No. 2 purveyor of online movies, notes BMO Capital Markets analyst Edward Williams. Netflix has partnered with so many consumer electronics manufacturers that its streaming service is on 250 devices, making on-demand viewing of movies and TV shows on TV screens a simple task. “Following the torrid pace of subscriber growth since Netflix’s Watch Instantly service made its way onto game consoles, we expect subscriber growth to remain elevated,” Williams said. “Eventually,” added Lazard Capital Markets analyst Barton Crockett, “Netflix may face more competition from larger players that we believe are likely to launch online streaming subscriptions with better content. For now, however, the company has the only meaningful online streaming subscription offering for consumers in the U.S.” Time Warner’s HBO would like to be considered meaningful online competition some day. It’s rolling out its HBO Go on Apple and Android devices May 2, giving its subscribers 1,400 hours of premium content.
Chinese, International Producers Beat Path to Co-Productions
BEIJING — Producers and movie industry advocates visiting the Beijing International Film Festival’s first full day on Sunday from around the world joined their Chinese counterparts in a summit to slice and dice the potential perks and pitfalls of making movies together. Co-productions can save foreign producers money and increase their chances of ..read more..
Entrepreneurs pulled Silicon Valley back from the brink. Now the Venture Capitalists are piling on. JP Shmorgan is finally puking up risk capital as well with their pals at Goldman’s Sack. The entrepreneurs are doing the right thing. They are taking in the lazy money and taking hard earned money ‘off’ the table for themselves. They are not buying 50 cars and building dungeons to do blow and have parties (or I am not getting invited…). They are investing as quickly as they can in 20 startups. No one knows how this will end because this bull market is already different than any other bull market. New leaders, new sectors, some new wealth and way more people on the sidelines and even hurting than ever. A new cocktail of capital and risk expectations. In a full circle to October 2008, Seth Godin is now inspiring me for this post with his two weekend posts ‘The Realization is Now‘ and ‘The Opportunity is Here’. Read them. Anything is possible today. Just this week I was invited back to my school (Thunderbird) by the super cool President Angel Cabrera who loves the power of Twitter and Stocktwits and New Media. Trust me, it is a big thrill to get asked back to your Graduate School to chat about what they think is success. You go with it .
Nocera noses around in the likely bankruptcy of Jefferson County Alabama — which will be the largest municipal bankruptcy in history — brought on, at least in part, by fancy debt instruments sold by JPMorgan.
The Birmingham News described Jefferson County as a “poster child” for all that can go wrong when municipalities start playing with unregulated derivatives peddled by Wall Street sharpies.
Has Spencer Bachus, as the local congressman, decried this debacle? Of course — what local congressman wouldn’t? In a letter last year to Mary Schapiro, the chairwoman of the S.E.C., he said that the county’s financing schemes “magnified the inherent risks of the municipal finance market.” (He also blamed, among other things, “serious corruption,” of which there was plenty, including secret payments by JPMorgan to people who could influence the county commissioners.)
Bachus is not just your garden variety local congressman, though. As chairman of the Financial Services Committee, he is uniquely positioned to help make sure that similar disasters never happen again — not just in Jefferson County but anywhere. After all, the new Dodd-Frank financial reform law will, at long last, regulate derivatives. And the implementation of that law is being overseen by Bachus and his committee.
Among its many provisions related to derivatives — all designed to lessen their systemic risk — is a series of rules that would make it close to impossible for the likes of JPMorgan to pawn risky derivatives off on municipalities. Dodd-Frank requires sellers of derivatives to take a near-fiduciary interest in the well-being of a municipality.
You would think Bachus would want these regulations in place as quickly as possible, given the pain his constituents are suffering. Yet, last week, along with a handful of other House Republican bigwigs, he introduced legislation that would do just the opposite: It would delay derivative regulation until January 2013.
It is hard not to see this move as an act of hostility toward any derivative regulation. After all, by 2013 a presidential election will have taken place, and if the Republicans take the White House and the Senate, one can expect that the next step would be to roll back derivative regulation entirely. Even if it is just about delay, rather than outright obstruction, that means the Republicans are asking for two more years during which the industry will add trillions of dollars worth of “financial weapons of mass destruction” (to use Warren Buffett’s famous description) to the $466.8 trillion of unregulated derivatives already in existence. How can this possibly be good?
I tried to ask this question of Bachus, but I was told he was unavailable.
Joe does a good show of righteous indignation, but let’s face it. The money in politics means that elected federal officials do not answer to their constituencies: they answer to their pay masters, which are entrenched and self-interested power brokers, like Wall Street. Wall Street doesn’t want to be regulated. Wall Street will do — and pay — whatever it takes to stop regulation even if it means supporting elected officials that believe the sun circles the Earth, that evolution is an unproven theory, and global warming isn’t caused by human activities.
And of course, it goes without saying that Bachus will feel no sense of shame, because, as Lauryn Hill said,
Men who lack conscience will even lie to themselves.
I would also hope that Joe and other commentators read Nassim Taleb’s piece (with Mark Blyth) in this month’s Foreign Affairs, and ground the discussion about regulation and reducing system risk in our broadening understanding of complex systems. As the authors write,
Complex systems that have artificially suppressed volatility tend to become extremely fragile, while at the same time exhibiting no visible risks. In fact, they tend to be too calm and exhibit minimal variability as silent risks accumulate beneath the surface. Although the stated intention of political leaders and economic policymakers is to stabilize the system by inhibiting fluctuations, the result tends to be the opposite. These artiﬁcially constrained systems become prone to “Black Swans” — that is, they become extremely vulnerable to large-scale events that lie far from the statistical norm and were largely unpredictable to a given set of observers.
Such environments eventually experience massive blowups, catching everyone off-guard and undoing years of stability or, in some cases, ending up far worse than they were in their initial volatile state. Indeed, the longer it takes for the blowup to occur, the worse the resulting harm in both economic and political systems.
Seeking to restrict variability seems to be good policy (who does not prefer stability to chaos?), so it is with very good intentions that policymakers unwittingly increase the risk of major blowups. And it is the same misperception of the properties of natural systems that led to both the economic crisis of 2007-8 and the current turmoil in the Arab world. The policy implications are identical: to make systems robust, all risks must be visible and out in the open — fluctuat nec mergitur (it fluctuates but does not sink) goes the Latin saying.
Just as a robust economic system is one that encourages early failures (the concepts of “fail small” and “fail fast”), the U.S. government should stop supporting dictatorial regimes for the sake of pseudostability and instead allow political noise to rise to the surface. Making an economy robust in the face of business swings requires allowing risk to be visible; the same is true in politics.
So our push for regulation cannot lead to a good end if the point of the regulation is to suppress variability in risk. Looking deep into Jefferson County’s sewer mess reveals… sewage. Surprise.
We can’t eliminate sewage from our financial systems: it’s inevitable. We must push instead for visibility into the risks involved in financial systems.
As such, the recent economic free fall is not really a function of immoral self-interest and duplicity: humans have always exhibited those traits. The flaw in the system was concealing risk in complex derivatives by intermingling countless independent risks, and calling the resulting stink bomb low-risk. That shouldn’t be legal.
After a couple years at Facebook, Hammerbacher grew restless. He figured that much of the groundbreaking computer science had been done. Something else gnawed at him. Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google (GOOG), and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” he says. “That sucks.”
So Jobs doesn’t believe an “additional box” is a viable strategy for seriously entering the TV industry. This leaves three places to enter: 1) integrating into set top boxes, 2) integrating into other TVs, or 3) Apple creating its own TV. Regarding #1, the last thing the cable operators want is for internet-delivered programming that bypasses their cable channels to become widespread – they see that as the fast track to become a dumb pipe. Re #2: This just seems very unlike Apple – the most vertically integrated company in tech, and famous for wanting to control every aspect of the product and user experience. Re #3, let’s imagine Apple develops a TV that is as groundbreaking as the iPhone was. The biggest problem “smart TVs” have today is that they need clunky IR transmitters to control set top boxes because the cable operators won’t willingly interoperate. So a new Apple TV would have to drum up such incredible consumer demand that the operators would feel compelled to support it. This does indeed seem harder in the TV than in the mobile industry. At least in the US you had 4 nationwide mobile operators at the time of the iPhone launch. In TV, consumers normally have at most two real choices for traditional cable programming – cable and satellite – and two real choices for two-way internet – cable and DSL/FIOS. Perhaps Apple won’t enter the market due to its structure. But that didn’t stop them in mobile phones where the structure was similarly difficult. The mistake analysts made about the iPhone was to assume the current industry structure would be sustained after Apple’s entry. I’d be wary of making the same assumption about the TV industry.
But perhaps the most important deal RIM secured for the PlayBook was with the company it turned to first – Adobe.
Very early on in the PlayBook design process, months before the company made its plans public, RIM decided to work with Adobe. The move made sense for both firms because they share a common enemy – the giant of Cupertino, Calif. Adobe was dealt a huge blow by Apple when it refused to allow Adobe’s Flash-based multimedia on any of its handheld devices. (Flash is a common piece of software that runs interactive features on websites such as video. Its absence on the iPad and iPhone is why many videos on the Internet won’t work on those devices.)
Mr. Lazaridis saw that there was an army of software developers – “it’s over three million people” – who create programs using tools made by Adobe.
The Adobe relationship, he reasoned, could become a major weapon for RIM. Not only can the PlayBook run a lot of Internet video and television that the iPad can’t, but in time, those millions of developers could also help the company close the “app gap” with Apple by building more apps for RIM products.
The Canadian technology icon has bet a lot on its new device – the PlayBook tablet. Failure could make the company a historical footnote.
The PlayBook is a part of the blueprint for taking RIM deeper into the consumer market, as well as finding growth in its traditional base of government and corporate clients. It’s an audacious strategy. If it succeeds, RIM just might regain the ground it has lost in the smart phone market, while finding new sources of revenue. And one day the PlayBook may come to replace the universal remote control, as the tablet already has done in Mr. Lazaridis’s own living room.
But if the strategy fails, then arguably so does RIM. At the very least, it would relegate it to No. 3 status for a long time to come, a poor cousin to Apple and Google – two companies that five years ago were not even in RIM’s business of wireless communications. It would also damage Canada’s prospects for a more innovative economy.
This is a farce. Compared to developed–and not-so-developed–nations, we have a terrible wireless infrastructure. Go to Europe, Japan, Korea, parts of China, and weep. With less competition, what incentive will AT&T have to improve coverage and service? Instead, AT&T will continue to milk its customers, parade its record $100 monthly ARPU for the iPhone…and continue to be the butt of jokes for its legendary bad service.
Future “books” will be bundled with soundtracks, musical leitmotifs, 3-D graphics, and streaming video. They’ll be enhanced with social bookmarking, online dating, and alerts from geo-networking apps whenever someone in your locality purchases the same book as you— anything so you don’t have to actually read the thing. Authors will do their own marketing, the reader will be responsible for distribution, the wisdom of crowds will take care of the editing, and the invisible hand of the market will perform the actual writing (if any).
Somebody once told me that a newspaper is like a high-minded lecture series held in the back of a big shopping mall. The lectures never paid for themselves, so all the mall shops — the nail salons, clothes stores, and restaurants — included a small surcharge in their prices to pay the speakers. This worked beautifully for a while because the lectures attracted high-end clientele and the stores profited from their wallets. But then somebody invented the Internet and everybody realized shoppers could visit the stores online without paying extra to support the lectures. What happened? Shops fled from the mall, which forced the lecture series to find other sources of revenue or otherwise pay fewer speakers less money.
The Korea Herald reported earlier this month that North Korea is cracking down on any kind of personal information technology, demanding that citizens give an accounting to the government of all thumb drives, MP3 players, cellphones and other tech gear. North Korea’s official net isn’t likely to be a dissent hub anytime soon. Citizens in the North can log on to the country’s own intranet service, “Kwangmyong” (.pdf), but it’s completely cut off from the rest of the web and offers only access only to sanitized domestic sites, state propaganda like the Korean Central News Agency and government-provided email addresses. (If you’re lucky enough to be Supreme Leader Kim or among a select group of the ruling class, you can get your lolcat and YouTube fix on a satellite link.) But illegal tech gadgetry smuggled across the border from China is changing the equation. You can now buy smuggled 3G phones from China - as many as a thousand North Koreans have, by one estimate - and try to snag a signal near the border with China for net access. The unlicensed mobile phones have allowed families in the North to clandestinely connect with foreign intelligence services in South Korea and the United States and spread news through the rumor mill. It’s not without risk, as Illegal phone use can carry stiff punishments, including death. DVDs of South Korean soap operas and CDs of South Korean pop music are also sold clandestinely in the North. They’re hardly the most political media, but in the bleak, Stalinist North, lighthearted glimpses of a free and prosperous life in the South are seditious - and can earn consumers harsh prison sentences, too.
"The two strategies that drive the consumption of media and entertainment in other countries are the growth of disposable income and the growth of discretionary time," Lieberman says. The key to targeting where this has occurred (and will occur) is defining the emerging middle class in key foreign territories and measuring its growth, a difficult task Lieberman and his students undertake by culling figures from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ global entertainment and media books and other resources. "In my own career development, I watched the P&L (profit and loss statements) from major media companies change dramatically, particularly in film and eventually in television and other areas," Lieberman says. "Last year, the Chinese film market went up 30%. When I was visiting and worked on the bid for the 2000 Olympics 15 years ago, they were nowhere near that," he says. "A movie ticket was 8 yuan, which was equal to about $1. Even though there were about 1.4 billion people in the country, there were maybe 200 million who could afford that. Well today, 500 or 600 million can afford to pay $4, or about 30 yuan, because it’s a huge growth world." The key to his analysis, Lieberman says, is looking at the right figures and cultural changes. "We’re not concentrating on cars or gasoline or their exports to America; we’re talking about what they have in their pockets and what they’re using, because entertainment and media is not the first thing you spend your money on. You take care of the market basket first. If you’re working in the field seven days a week, you don’t have time to read a book, magazine or newspaper. The moment you have weekends or holidays off, all of that is part of the growth." While extreme poverty remains a fact of life for hundreds of millions in countries like India, Lieberman says, "It still leaves a lot of people who’ve grown into a middle class there who are watching Rupert Murdoch’s Star, Sony TV and the government television channel Doordarshan." They have fueled the "explosion of Mumbai," he says, in film, music, telecom, cable, TV and other areas.
But if you want to get a true sense of what the “shadow budget” is all about, all you have to do is look closely at the taxpayer money handed over to a single company that goes by a seemingly innocuous name: Waterfall TALF Opportunity. At first glance, Waterfall’s haul doesn’t seem all that huge — just nine loans totaling some $220 million, made through a Fed bailout program. That doesn’t seem like a whole lot, considering that Goldman Sachs alone received roughly $800 billion in loans from the Fed. But upon closer inspection, Waterfall TALF Opportunity boasts a couple of interesting names among its chief investors: Christy Mack and Susan Karches. Christy is the wife of John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley. Susan is the widow of Peter Karches, a close friend of the Macks who served as president of Morgan Stanley’s investment-banking division. Neither woman appears to have any serious history in business, apart from a few philanthropic experiences. Yet the Federal Reserve handed them both low-interest loans of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars through a complicated bailout program that virtually guaranteed them millions in risk-free income.
following an act of Congress that has forced the Fed to open its books from the bailout era, this unofficial budget is for the first time becoming at least partially a matter of public record. Staffers in the Senate and the House, whose queries about Fed spending have been rebuffed for nearly a century, are now poring over 21,000 transactions and discovering a host of outrages and lunacies in the “other” budget. It is as though someone sat down and made a list of every individual on earth who actually did not need emergency financial assistance from the United States government, and then handed them the keys to the public treasure. The Fed sent billions in bailout aid to banks in places like Mexico, Bahrain and Bavaria, billions more to a spate of Japanese car companies, more than $2 trillion in loans each to Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, and billions more to a string of lesser millionaires and billionaires with Cayman Islands addresses. “Our jaws are literally dropping as we’re reading this,” says Warren Gunnels, an aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “Every one of these transactions is outrageous.”
It’s not uncommon for e-commerce sites to offer live chat with salespeople, but Swedish telecoms operator 3 Sweden is now taking that premise several steps further. Through a custom multi-touch interface, the company’s new 3LiveShop offering aims to provide customers with the same personalized service they’d get at its bricks-and-mortar stores.
Now, when 3 Sweden customers elect to have a video call with a salesperson, they experience something much like they would in a physical store. Specifically, using just the touch of a finger, the salesperson can drag a product onto the screen, demonstrate its features, and then drag it into a shopping cart. The system can detect multiple fingers and hands at the same time on the salesperson’s side while recreating everything for the customer. A video on Vimeo demonstrates the system in action.
On a panel of connected TV experts at the National Association of Broadcasters show, Senior Director of Sony’s PlayStation Network Susan Panico said she sees the PlayStation 3 audience — which is primarily young and male — is becoming increasingly comfortable with viewing content online and not paying for cable, satellite or other traditional distributors to access it.
“Kids are growing up digitally,” Panico said. She said that access to services like Netflix and Hulu Plus is giving that audience “a reason to disengage with cable… There’s a changing usage pattern there” with the 18-24 demographic.
Last month, Shangri-La Entertainment uploaded a feature film made for the Web, “Girl Walks Into a Bar,” starring Danny DeVito and Rosario Dawson and sponsored by Lexus. The studio likes to point out that if the number of views it received in the first two days were movie tickets, the show would have made $2.6 million at the box office. “We’ve gotten more and more sure over time that there are good economic reasons that the content distributed through cable is going to continue getting distributed that way,” said Salar Kamangar, senior vice president of YouTube. “But we have more and more reason to see the new kind of content for the Web is increasingly attracting viewers’ minutes, so we’re focusing on those.”
It was produced by Maker Studios, one of several production houses that have sprung up to help create and distribute videos for the Web. Financed by venture capitalists and grants from Google’s YouTube, these studios are trying to play the same role for the online video service that United Artists did almost a century ago for movies or MTV did for television in the 1980s. “These are new-generation studios, folks that are growing up from the basement who are choosing to collaborate and form these networks,” said Hunter Walk, head of product management at YouTube. “In many ways they are like the first cable stations 30 years ago.” Maker Studios’ videos, for instance, have almost as many daily viewers as Nickelodeon.
For Americans, flushing the toilet is the main way we use water. We use more water flushing toilets than bathing or cooking or washing our hands, our dishes, or our clothes. When we think about the big ways we use water, flushing the toilet doesn’t typically leap to mind. It’s one of those unnoticed parts of our daily water use — our daily water-mark — that turns out to be both startling and significant.
The largest single consumer of water in the United States, in fact, is virtually invisible. Every day, the nation’s power plants use 201 billion gallons of water in the course of generating electricity. That isn’t water used by hydroelectric plants — it’s the water used by coal, gas, and nuclear power plants for cooling and to make steam.
Toilets and electric outlets may be stealthy consumers of water, but they at least serve vital functions. One of the largest daily consumers of water isn’t a use at all. One of every six gallons of water pumped into water mains by U.S. utilities simply leaks away, back into the ground.
Sixteen percent of the water disappears from the pipes before it makes it to a home or business or factory. Every six days, U.S. water utilities lose an entire day’s water. And that 16 percent U.S. loss rate isn’t too bad — British utilities lose 19 percent of the water they pump; the French lose 26 percent. There is perhaps no better symbol of the golden age of water, of the carefree, almost cavalier, attitude that our abundance has fostered. We go to the trouble and expense to find city-size quantities of water, build dams, reservoirs, and tanks to store it and plants to treat it, then we pump it out to customers, only to let it dribble away before anyone can use it.
One of the hallmarks of the twentieth century, at least in the developed world, is that we have gradually been able to stop thinking about water. We use more of it than ever, we rely on it for purposes we not only never see but can hardly imagine, and we think about it not at all. It is a striking achievement. We used to build monuments — even temples — to water. The aqueducts of the Roman Empire are marvels of engineering and soaringly elegant design. They were plumbing presented as civic achievement and as a tribute to the water itself. Today, water has drifted so far from civic celebration that many people visit the Roman aqueducts without any sense at all that they moved water, or how.
Many cities in the world are located where they are because of their proximity to water. For most of human history, in most settings, getting water was part of the daily routine; it was a constant part of our mental landscape. At the same time, humanity’s relationship to its water supply was wary, because water often made people sick. That’s why Poland Spring water was so popular in Boston and New York even a century ago — it was safe.
Our very success with water ushered in not just a golden age of water, but a century-long era in which water became increasingly invisible. Our home water bills, which are less than half our monthly cable TV or cell phone bills, provide almost no insight into how much water we use, or how we use it — even if we study them.
The new class of micropollutants we are beginning to hear about — infinitesimal, almost molecular, traces of plastics, birth control pills, antidepressants — have literally been invisible even to chemists until very recently; you certainly can’t tell if they’re in your water by looking at it or drinking it. The impact of those micropollutants on our health, if any, may remain invisible for years — and may be almost impossible to predict or trace.
Even our emotional connections to water have become submerged and camouflaged — the ease with which water enters and leaves our lives allows us an indifference to our water supply. We are utterly ignorant of our own water-mark, of the amount of water required to float us through the day, and we are utterly indifferent to the mark our daily life leaves on the water supply.
But the golden age of water is rapidly coming to an end. The last century has conditioned us to think that water is naturally abundant, safe, and cheap — that it should be, that it will be. We’re in for a rude shock.
We are in the middle of a water crisis already, in the United States and around the world. The experts realize it (the Weather Channel already has a dedicated burning-orange logo for its drought reports), but even in areas with serious water problems, most people don’t seem to understand. We are entering a new era of water scarcity — not just in traditionally dry or hard-pressed places like the U.S. Southwest and the Middle East, but in places we think of as water-wealthy, like Atlanta and Melbourne.