In Praise of Physical Media

I’ve been kicking around ideas for this article for a while. Originally it was going to be one of my frugal/cheapskate posts, but recent events have changed it into something else.

A friend of mine has done the unthinkable and cancelled his internet service. He had dumped Cable TV since his kids had grown up and moved out. Nobody was going to give him grief over not being able to watch the latest juvenile sitcom from Disney or popular real-life atrocity from MTV so he could not see the sense of continuing to pay an outrageous bill for something he simply did not enjoy. He doesn’t follow sports, and there is no such thing as Must-See TV as far as he is concerned. Having relieved his bank account of one onerous monthly bill, he developed a taste for economizing and looked for another bill to prune. He decided that the internet was every bit as obnoxious as cable television and had to go. Sure, the internet service providers crow about low introductory rates, but my buddy saw those rates swamped by fees, taxes and other charges that nobody could justify in plain English. He decided to do without, and much to my disbelief and the ISP’s dismay, he really did cut the cord!

So how is he doing?

Quite well as it turns out.

As far as communication if someone wants to reach him, the telephone and the post office work perfectly well. He never did get involved with Facebook, Twitter or any of the other platforms where people could catch up with barely remembered acquaintances or argue incessantly with strangers. He assiduously avoided social media which seemed like such a cranky and contrarian position to take at one time, but now it seems to be the completely prudent thing to do. Sometimes there are reasons you fell out of touch with long lost people.

He’s enjoying books he has amassed over the years and never got around to reading. He watches DVDs that he has bought used or borrowed and watches them straight through rather than switching off from a program when he loses interest to find something else that’s just as boring. I was and still am intrigued. I have tons of videos and books and other things I could be doing. I know I waste an inordinate amount of time online. Of course, I also have a family who will mutiny if I got rid of the internet.

So now whenever I buy a movie, I make a point of buying a DVD rather than a Blu-Ray so my buddy can borrow it. The days of buying a hot new disk the day it’s released at a big box store are over. I wait for sales or in a lot of cases I buy used. Blockbuster and other video rental stores used to shed it’s inventories by selling used movies to make room for new movies, but most video renters have long since bitten the dust. Surprisingly, there are still video rental stores and although I am nowhere near one of their locations, the Family Video chain sells new and used DVDs online. When a used movie gets reduced to $5.00 or there is a sales price too good to let pass, I usually pounce on it.

So my buddy and a few guys in work have all started to either borrow or lend disks. The disks are either something that somebody has lying around or something that was picked up on impulse at a discount or dollar store. It’s like an informal lending library, and I’ve managed to see more movies I have enjoyed rather than wasting time fruitlessly searching for something worthwhile on a streaming channel.

I used to buy DVDs like they were going out of style because that’s how I got my entertainment. I didn’t have cable television and buying the movie was cheaper than going to the movie theater where your feet stick to the floor and that guy two rows behind you won’t shut up. It made sense until I realized I was buying deluxe versions of movies with a ton of extras, and I would never watch the extras. Then streaming came along and it was a whole lot easier pushing buttons than it was digging through all of those boxes. DVD sales cratered and the blu-ray format never caught on in the face of inexpensive streaming services. For a low monthly membership fee, subscribers were granted access to the largest video store that anyone could imagine — video stores so vast that it would take several lifetimes to take it all in. Pretty much any title one could imagine was available instantly. It was a no brainer.

Then they altered the deal. Disney started to censor movies available on their streaming platform. Then HBO decided to disappear the number one box office movie of all time from their platform. This did not bode well, and I don’t think it will end there. I grew up in a world where everything was opening up; no subject was taboo and the emergence of digital made it all easily available. Now the goalpost is being moved in the opposite direction, and a Neo-Puritan age is upon us. This is not what I signed up for. I was going to do a trial membership of these platforms, but there is no way I am doing this now. I don’t want to reward bad behavior.

DVDs are starting to look pretty good to me again — not just for my offline buddy’s sake, but for the sake of watching a movie as intended. Prices are fairly reasonable. Availability of titles is pretty good right now on the used and new market. I have disks that are over twenty years old, and they still play fine. They are not in the cloud where people only imagine they own them. The movies I own on disk won’t be subject to alteration or deletion by the copyright holder. The disks are my property, and I can lend them, sell them or pass them on if I so desire. They do not rely on the internet to play, and nobody has a record of what or when I am watching. That’s why I’m buying.

I may have to pick up a spare DVD player or two and put them away in storage. Who knows how long they will remain available.

Stay tuned! More to come!

Disk Image by Dirk Schulz from Pixabay

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