Choice Overload, I Miss Blockbuster Video
The way we consume nearly everything has changed a lot over the course of my life, and media is no exception. The way movies, television, music and print media is distributed today would have been a fantasy when I was growing up 20 to 30 years ago. Now we’re in a world where our media is delivered instantaneously and the breadth of choice borders on overwhelming. It’s leading to what I call “Choice Overload.”
People have laughed at me when I’ve said I miss Blockbuster Video as we scroll through Netflix for 30 minutes looking for something to watch. How can I miss getting in the car, driving across town, walking around a store, looking for something to rent and finally heading back home; all for a selection a fraction the size of what we are offered on the popular streaming media services?
I liked it; it was an event. Going to the video store was a treat, renting a movie was something of a special occasion. These days you just watch whatever you want whenever you want and there’s nothing special about it. The experience has been cheapened to some degree.
I’ve scrolled through Netflix, Amazon Prime, my cable providers’ On-Demand offerings and Hulu a number of times and in the end didn’t decide on anything to watch. Sure I’d scroll past something and think, “Oh I could watch that,” but I’d keep scrolling because there might be something better up ahead. This phenomenon happened back in the days of video rental stores, but I can assure you I never left empty handed. Walking to the end of the new releases rack took 2 minutes, it was no big deal to double back for that “Plan B” choice I already passed if I didn’t find something better.
Having so much choice can be exhausting. I think it can leave us with feelings of doubt. We’re concerned that we didn’t make the right choice when we finally come to a decision and I think a big part of the problem is that while the total number of choices continues to grow exponentially, often the number of good choices don’t. This leaves us with the task of filtering out more and more garbage to try and find the few gems hidden among it.
This paradox doesn’t only exist in the realm of digital media. Just step into a grocery store and look around. We’re overwhelmed with more and more product choices every day. I can think back to the tiny “True Value” grocery store in my home town and it probably compares more closely to today’s convenience store than a Publix or Super Walmart. The seemingly endless aisles of products all fighting for the best eye-level placement is almost as much a curse as it is a blessing.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for Doc Brown to bring me the Delorean and to head back to 1985. I do love all the accessibility and convenience we have today, but I recognize that it isn’t without cost. Sometimes I just like to reminisce about a time when there were only three TV channels, no cell phones, and the world wasn’t filled with on-demand instant gratification at every turn.