It occurred to me yesterday how much we’ve lost in regards to the experience of the media we consume.
As a teenager, there was something special about sitting in my car and peeling back the plastic on that new CD, leafing through the liner notes, slotting the disc into the player, and hearing the opening notes to the album for the first time. There are countless records I could tell you exactly where I was when I heard them for the first time.
In direct contrast, Weezer dropped a record last week, an album they’ve been promoting over a year now. Spotify sent me a notification to say, “Hey, remember that thing you were excited about? It’s here! All you’ve gotta do is click PLAY.” I clicked play, got in the shower, and heaved a sigh. An album I’d looked forward to was no longer an event, but something banal enough to accompany my morning routine.
By the same token, I was hyped for Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago Seven. But because the movie dropped on Netflix (yes, due to pandemic-related nonsense, but that’s a different conversation), I don’t have a recollection of watching it for the first time. I’ve seen it multiple times now and enjoyed every watch, but the experience of watching the film for the first time wasn’t an event. It wasn’t noteworthy enough that I remember it, even though it was less than a year ago.
To prevent this from happening again, I made a concerted effort to see Godzilla vs. Kong in a theater. Since I was raised on the Japanese Godzilla movies, that cinematic crossover was more important to me than anything Marvel’s ever done and I refuse to settle for watching it on my living room TV. I wanted the experience of the film.
My high school economic teacher said once that you pay for things with more than just the dollars in your wallet. You pay with your time and and attention. Driving to the record store for that new record you want demands your time, demands effort. It asks something of you and in exchange, you have an experience to associate with the music. But when acquiring something takes little to no effort, a part of the experience is removed. When everything is accessible all at once, we lose part of the innate experience of relating to what we’re consuming.
It recalls the experience of the video store, as captured in The Last Blockbuster. As comedian Paul Sheer says, “People are [at the video store], they all want to be entertained, they all want to see what you’re renting and talking about…there’s a real dialogue going on and I think having a physical media allows you to have to interact with the public.”
We didn’t just to to Blockbuster for movies, but for the experience of browsing, asking the staff for recommendations, encountering other customers. And when we got home with the movie we checked out in hand, we were more satisfied with our choice because we were committed to it. Dumping out twenty minutes in to pick something else meant a trip back to the video store, so we were more likely to engage with what was in front of us.
Contrary to Justin Timberlake’s mad ranting and raving in The Social Network, we lose something tremendous when we strive to live on the internet. When we remove the music, movies, and media from the experience of encountering them, we might as well resign ourselves to living that Arcade Fire song…