High Speed Broadband Killed the Video Store
I was listening to the radio this morning, and in between traffic and weather reports the DJ announced that Blockbuster would be claiming bankruptcy within the next week. My initial reaction was somewhat cynical and unremorseful: Can’t keep up with the times, then the times will pass you up. The advent of companies such as Netflix and RedBox have destroyed many independently own video rental stores, as well as caused large companies such as Blockbuster to file for bankruptcy and downsize their operations. Had Blockbuster put more emphasis on digital streaming and reformatted their business plan to a digital platform years ago, they would have at least had a chance of competing with Netflix while still staying relevant to consumers. Unfortunately, video rental storefronts are gradually becoming obsolete in the digital climate, the same way that record stores are disappearing to iTunes and MP3 servers.
While this is part of a natural evolution in consumer culture, it is also very dismal. When I was growing up, a typical sleepover consisted of spending 3 hours at Blockbuster trying to select a movie, and an hour and half watching it. Going to the video store was half of the fun of watching the movie – seeing a finite number of things that we’re available, debating which one would be the best selection, and making your decision based on whatever momentary criteria you had (Am I old enough to rent Rated R? Are there going to be girls around?). Watching the movie was often secondary to the experience of physically going to the stores and renting it. Much of my childhood was spent in between the “Horror” aisles of Blockbuster, and it’s an experience that I value and look back on fondly. It is upsetting to me that future generations may not have the same experience; all they’ll have to do is sit on a couch and click a button and a whole entire library of films is available to them. When media becomes that instantly gratifying, it also becomes cheap, disposable, and I feel that part of the appreciation is lost. This claim is not only relevant to Blockbusters, but also to public libraries and record stores, all of which are currently going through tough financial times. The experience of seeking something out, searching for it, and finding it is gradually disappearing. If you can hold it, touch it, or feel it, then it probably will be obsolete in the coming decades.
While this all makes me nostalgic and gloomy, I am part of the reason places like Blockbuster are going out of business. Not only do I have a Netflix account, but I also have a fucking phone where I can directly stream my Netflix Instant Que. I don’t have to drive to a store, I don’t have to worry if it’s in stock or not, I don’t have to interact with anyone else – hell, I don’t even have to be in front of a TV! How crazy is that?
The development of technology and its impact on mass media has always been an internal conflict for me. While I utilize it and am grateful for the convenience that it offers, there is also a part of me that wishes it wasn’t all so easy. There’s a part of me that wants to struggle for new information; to learn as much about the journey to the destination as the destination itself. There’s a part of me that wants to travel to foreign places to learn guitar chords, or to visit mom and pop’s record shops to find hidden pop gems, or to stop by Blockbuster and rent the 5th installment in the Halloween franchise. But we live in a day in age where I can do all of this with a phone, no matter where I am, or what time of day it is. It is as incredible as it is contemptible, and I am as grateful for it as I am disheartened by it.