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Farewell to books and DVDs. January 19, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was stunned to see a news item this morning that Netflix had created a firestorm of protest by noting that it was promoting its streaming video service at the expense of its DVDs-by-mail, and that it’s eventually expected to drop DVD service altogether, possibly within two years.

Silence Dogood and I subscribe to Netflix, and have very much enjoyed the service. For $14.95 a month—considerably less than a mere two tickets to our local movie theater—we can order as many films and TV programs as we have time or inclination to watch. And watching them couldn’t be easier, since they arrive through the mail in a simple, free mail-back package. You can hold onto them as long as you like without penalty, too, so if you get busy, no worries (and no late fees).

There’s another advantage of Netflix, and that’s its diversity. Our friend Ben has observed that few people seem to share the same taste in movies and programming. Since you can order whatever and as much as you like through Netflix, this feature allows you to watch exactly what you want without dragging your unhappy partner or spouse to see it with you, or worse, being dragged yourself, or having to sit alone in a movie theater.

I’ll confess that I’ve seen more than enough of Jane Austen, Tony Bourdain, and the like to last a lifetime, yet Silence has already put the next season of Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and the latest BBC adaptations of Austen in our Netflix queue. Silence feels exactly that way about the Coen brothers’ films and war movies: thanks, but no thanks. With Netflix, we can each order our favorites, and also collaborate to make sure we have plenty of movies or shows in the queue that we both want to watch. 

But what if Netflix cuts us off? Mind you, we know plenty of teens and twentysomethings who love watching movies and TV shows on their tiny computer screens. Not us, though. We like the shared experience of watching together on a larger screen, the comfort of relaxing on the sofa or rocking chair without balancing a laptop on our laps, the ability to enjoy a snack or drink or, say, knitting while we watch instead of crouching over the screen so we don’t miss anything. As for people who watch movies on their iPods or MP3s or whatever, we just can’t comprehend it.

Fine, you might be thinking, so go rent your movies from Blockbuster. Well, by the time Netflix cuts us off, Blockbuster—in large part thanks to Netflix—will be history. Okay, then, just buy the damned movies and shows from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the like. But what if we can’t afford them, or find that we don’t like them? We’d rather rent them first, then buy them if we find we love them and would like to watch them repeatedly.

Looks like we may have to rely solely on books from here on out. But wait… what about books? Amazon is so busy pushing its Kindle e-reader, and Barnes & Noble its Nook e-reader, that they might decide to pursue the Netflix model and phase out real books altogether. The day may not be far off when it’s impossible to find actual books outside a library or used-book store. Trust us, we’re stocking up as our finances and space permit. With luck, we’ll have accumulated enough compelling and thought-provoking reading to take us into old age by the time books become obsolete.

There’s a movie called “Fahrenheit 451” in which books are officially banned by a police state and an underground movement springs up to memorize and recite books to keep their content alive. This is storytelling, the way the first people perpetuated their history and provided wisdom and entertainment before writing was invented.

Are we really going back there? “There once was a movie called ‘Independence Day.’ Picture, if you will, a computer geek who detects a secret countdown, an Army lifer who longs to be an astronaut, and an alien culture that plans to eat humanity alive…”

Our friend Ben supposes it could happen. It might not even be all bad, since storytelling is an art that draws people of all ages, nations, and classes together. But I hope, I so much hope, it remains a choice rather than a necessity…



1. Becca - January 19, 2011

That’s my favorite part of Fahrenheit 451–when he meets the people who memorize the books. Aren’t they known by their book names or something like that?

Er, yikes, I can’t even remember, Becca! I just remember them pacing around in the fog reciting…

2. Mike Timonin - January 23, 2011

We have one of the Netflix set top boxes from Roku, which allows you to watch streaming videos directly on your TV. We maintain an unlimited one at a time account, but we watch far more things through the Roku box than we do from the mail. We haven’t had cable in several years, and no longer miss it.

As to books, I don’t have a solution, but I think the demise of books is, not unlike rumors of Mr. Twain’s death, highly exaggerated.

Thanks so much for checking in, Mike! Of course we’d never heard of the Roku box but will look into it. And we applaud your optimism re: books.

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