Online Content: You are not real

LawnmowerPlease allow me a moment of cathartic indulgence.

I’m not a technophobe. I am an early adopter. I use twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Foursquare and a range of other junky applications. I can no longer conceive of how I lived prior to the purchase of my first iPhone. The only thing that I absolutely cannot stand about this brave new digital world (the only thing I’ll be discussing here, at least) is the increasing trend towards rejecting physical formats in favour of totally online content. Namely, the trend away from Blu-ray (formally DVD) discs that come in neat little boxes and books made out of… you know… paper.

Allow me to clarify – I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with watching a movie online or reading a book on your Kindle. I’ve certainly watched movies and television programs online when this was the most convenient method of viewing them, and on one occasion while travelling I did put myself through the unusual and unsatisfying experience of reading Milton’s Paradise Lost on a phone. What I am saying is, these are merely convenient alternatives for those times when the physical universe cannot make available the materials you need.

Everywhere I look people are converting their DVDs and Blu-rays and uploading them to sleek, faceless portable hard drives. Everywhere people are throwing out their books faster than a fascist-rally to clear space for the empty wall in their house that will now be used for…. Who knows? Everywhere I look, people are downloading massive amounts of film and television content and referring to this content as their ‘collection’. Collection? What a tragic bastardisation of the word – a term that once referred to a large array of thematically unified objects that have been sought out over many years with much love and care. Now it means “a bunch of crap I downloaded last night”.

But why should I care about what other people are doing? I can read my books and watch my films in any way I want – why shouldn’t other people be able to do what they want? Well, of course, they should. My concern is that this move from the physical to the online will be an overwhelming trend that will end up totally destroying the physical print and Blu-ray film markets (just as is happening in the news-media industry right now with devastating and homogenising effects on the quality of news).

Why is this bad? Maybe it isn’t. But for this humble writer, right here and now, the smell of the printed page is holy, and the wall of films that adorns his living room is priceless. Am I simply scrambling to hold on to something that must inevitably pass, like the mass-popularity of the record player or the VHS? Almost definitely. But I’ll continue to hold on until, like Burgess Meredith, it’s just me and my library – the whole world having long since departed into the online ether.

Here endeth the grumpy rant.

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

20 thoughts on “Online Content: You are not real

  1. I have pretty much the same view on this. I try to explain that the aesthetic is what matters, not how tiny how can turn the file into, so the watching it on an i-pod is “bearable”. Movies and music are about the theatrics, the immensity, these things are lost on multiple generations as everyone scrambles to grab the next pop-culture repository for their pockets.

  2. Milton’s Paradise Lost on a phone – in itself a descent into hell of a new kind! In my circles (both virtual and real) we’ve been having this very same discussion and there is thankfully one common thread that those who love their books are continuing to support the industry. I don’t mind the idea of online media for vetting a potential purchase but can’t stand the thought that I’m shelling out hard earned cash for a product I don’t actually own and can’t physically touch – as Liberty of Thinking above said, some of us do have small fortunes invested in our collections; call me old school but if hard times come rolling in it’s pretty hard to hock your itunes library… thanks for visiting btw!

  3. Hi, just scrolling through your older posts, and couldn’t help saying something:-)
    A couple of weeks ago, my son made a pretty nice job arranging all our books and DVDs, blurays, CDs etc. In the end they looked at it and said “dad, we live on a tight budget, but look, there’s a smaller fortune invested in all these, when nearly everyone else has the same of pirated cheap or free copies!”
    “Yeap, I said, when time will come, and nothing else’s going to be left behind, but what we’ve invested in, you’ll sit in your living room, watching in HD, that Dad was right when preaching why quality never comes cheap, and in the end, honesty does pay it’s dividends…”
    And yes, I have a few e-books on my iPad, but all of them are “backed-up” with printed ones on my shelves. You know how proud I was when my eldest daughter, when I asked her why not purchasing in e format on her Sony tablet the ginormous triple edition of the LOTR she was/is reading, she replied “I don’t know, dad… it just feels so good holding the REAL book”…
    No, it’s not just the content which matters:-)

    Take care.


  4. I cherish my movies and printed books as well. I wouldn’t give them up for the world. They are one of the things I could never leave behind if I went somewhere else. I tried once to read a book on my phone.. that didn’t last through the first chapter. Something about feeling the pages and turning them to find out what happened just keeps me ihappy.

  5. When it becomes so easy to collect stuff and have it all fit inside a coin purse, we lose the ability to appreciate quality and discern the excellent from the mediocre. Why not download everything? But if you have to fit your reading or viewing material in a bookcase or on a shelf, you’re more likely to consider the quality of what you share your space wiith.

  6. It is a concern that we are on the fast track to dumping everything that is not digital, or does not have ‘an app for that.’ I have tried, and tried to like, the ebook. I reasoned that it would save me space and money, but the truth of it is, that I like the feel of holding a book in my hands. There is a certain intimacy in holding onto that story or information while you read. As well, I enjoy the smell of an old tome in my hands, and hey, “There’s [a library] for that!” No, you just can’t get that from a reader. Trying to watch a favorite movie online, or from your digital storage holds its own challenges. Glitches in the feed and corrupted files are infuriating. Ever notice how they always come at the crucial moment in the story?

    I came here this morning expecting to take a peek and move on. I have been here well over an hour. It is rare to find someone who follows me that has a thinking blog on the other end. Thank you!

    • Hey Lynda,

      I agree with all of the above. What are we rejecting the tangible for exactly? It’s a mystery why we would become so totally enamored with abandoning deeply ingrained cultural traditions in the pursuit of centralizing our lives into a single device. As far as I’m concerned, my house is built primarily to showcase the books and films I love.

      I’m glad you enjoy the blog – it makes it all worthwhile to hear that somebody is enjoying it 🙂

    • I worked many years in a public library. In the days before the computer, the phone, etc., I watched students doing assignments by photocopying reams and reams of paper. I always wondered how many of them ever read what they copied. I had the eerie feeling that they felt the job was done when they walked away with pocketed information they would never absorb or use. How many really watch all the films we download? Or are we just building a collection? ricksflicks, December 27

Leave a Reply