Imagine a world in which you can access the media you love anytime, anywhere. Well, that world is here. Google's Director of Digital Content, Jamie Rosenberg, explains how new technology supplies people with 24/7 entertainment. The cloud has made films, books, and music ubiquitously available, and the social web is allowing us to engage with media in new, exciting ways.

Written by
Jamie Rosenberg
July 2012

Sure, there’s no colony on Mars, we haven’t invented faster than light travel, and we’re still waiting for the jetpacks to arrive – but there’s at least one way in which the future has exceeded all the hype: We live in an age in which boredom has been eradicated.

Each of us holds a world of limitless entertainment in the palm of our hand. Want some music to soundtrack your day? Whether it’s Bach or Busta Rhymes, your phone will pluck any of your music straight out of the cloud. Feel like watching a film? Buy or rent any movie from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to Gone with the Wind and watch via digital streaming. Got a gaming itch? Scratch it in a supermarket checkout line with Angry Birds or Draw Something. Glance around any busy train carriage or crowded café today and you’ll see small screens glowing as technology turns once idle moments into play time.

Cloud computing has brought a new twist, one that could be every bit as significant as the leap from vinyl to CD, or CD rack to hard drive. Music, books, films, and games are all moving into the cloud, while faster networks and more powerful smartphones mean that entire digital libraries are available across all our devices without actually being stored on any of them. Never again will you need to turn your house upside down looking for a wire just so you can add new music to your phone. Even waiting for downloads has become a thing of the past as new purchases can be played immediately from cloud-powered stores. A lifetime of content is now accessible from almost any device, anytime, anywhere.

Glance around any busy train carriage or crowded café today and you’ll see small screens glowing as technology turns once idle moments into play time.

And with the cloud, the media you love follows you. You might start your day by turning on your tablet computer at the same time as your coffee maker. After checking your email, you might read a chapter of a book on the same device. On the train, you might resume reading on your phone from the same page you left off on your tablet. At the office, you could power through the day listening to your entire music collection on a desktop computer. And on the way home, you might catch up on a TV series on the go. Once in the door, you can curl up on the sofa with your tablet, picking up the show, or your book, exactly where you left off.

Convenience is the cloud’s biggest benefit, but it is also an opportunity for people to find new ways of enjoying their digital libraries. At Google Play – our service for apps, music, movies, books, and games – we’ve introduced ‘Instant Mix,’ which uses machine hearing to analyze your music in the cloud for things like mood, tempo, and instrumentation. It answers questions like, ‘Is it upbeat?’ ‘Can I jog to it?’ ‘Is there a Hammond B-3 organ?’ The software finds connections between songs to combine your favorites with your library’s more neglected tracks. Similarly, as you educate online services about your taste, they can make increasingly personalized recommendations to introduce you to lesser-known music, movies, and books that you might enjoy.

Cloud-enabled tablets are transforming personal entertainment, with users typically spending longer enjoying media on their devices than traditional desktop browsers. According to digital video services provider Ooyala, tablet users watched one minute and 17 seconds for each minute of video viewed on a desktop late last year; a 28 percent increase. People surfing the net on tablets also spent over 50 percent more per purchase last year than visitors on smartphones, and outspent desktop or laptop visitors by 20 percent, according to Adobe Digital Index. Thanks to their ergonomic form, tablets are comfortable for reading, watching videos, or playing games, and as they become both more powerful and more affordable, the speed at which they’ll change our patterns of digital consumption – and our expectations of the content we consume – will only increase.

Take the enhanced eBook version of the Muhammad Ali biography His Life and Times, in which ‘The Greatest’ actually speaks to readers, telling them how he can ‘float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.’ It’s an early illustration of how different categories of digital media are merging. Children’s books in particular are pioneering this multimedia approach; and soon cookbooks will walk you through recipes with video tutorials.

At the same time, the social web is also letting us engage with media in new ways. eBook readers can share margin notes; music lovers can DJ sets together; and friends in different cities can watch YouTube videos in a Google+ hangout. These new ways of sharing content are pushing rights holders to consider different options, such as access models supported by subscriptions or advertising, or entirely new models geared around specific social contexts. Google Play, for instance, allows people to share a free listen with their Google+ friends when they buy a song.

As the internet, tablets, and smartphones redefine media experiences, the television in your living room will have to keep up. Soon, televisions and stereo systems will take cues from your smartphone on what music or movie to play when you come home. In addition to streaming all sorts of media on demand, TVs will become new avenues for internet services such as e-commerce, social networking, and interactive ways of catching up on news. This year, analysts IHS iSuppli predict that the market for internet-enabled TVs will grow about 60 percent to 95 million sets, compared to only two percent growth for traditional TVs.

It’s natural to wonder if this flood of content will monopolize our time and wreak havoc on our attention span. However, researchers are finding that frequent doses of play are not only crucial to happiness, they can actually increase productivity. Many companies that depend on innovation – Google among them – encourage employees to take time out to play. Setting a problem aside gives the subconscious a chance to work it through and can lead to a flash of creative insight.

We like to imagine that making it easier to find moments of play in increasingly packed days will help spark some magical thinking. One thing we know for sure is that a future inspired by play won’t be boring.