Stream The World

10 years after canceling my account for the first time, I have resubscribed to Netflix.

I canceled my account, all those years ago, not because of any flaw in Netflix’s service, or because it wasn’t worth the money, but because Netflix was making me crazy. I had to watch the movies. I had to watch all the movies, and I had to watch them immediately. Friends would come over: “Hey, want to go out and see Bob?” “Can’t. MUST WATCH MOVIES so that I can RETURN THEM.” The fact that I wasn’t actually enjoying all this panicked watching was sort of beside the point. Somehow it tripped a wire in my brain. I eventually realized this wasn’t healthy for me, and I dropped the subscription.

The arrival of the Netflix app on the iPad brought me back. I’m sufficiently steeped in movies at this point that I’ve come around to the psu way of thinking about Netflix: you’re not paying for the subscription to watch the movies, you’re paying for the subscription so the movie can sit on your end- table, unwatched, for 6 months while you don’t worry about it. And the ability to stream movies to the iPad, to the computer, or to the Xbox is pure love. I actually watched half of a movie on the iPad, then later started watching it on the Xbox, and Netflix remembered where I was and picked up where I left off. That gave me a little thrill.

Conceptually, streaming these things should be the ideal way to go. When it works, it is a little like living in The Future. The quality is good (or at least “good enough”), there’s no physical media management to worry about, and I don’t have to think about getting to the Post Office. In reality, the selection of movies available for streaming is a bit thin. It’s definitely enough to find something to watch if you’re bored, but the percentage of movies that can be streamed is still comparatively miniscule. Interestingly, this is true not just of Netflix, but also of various other online movie rental services, such as iTunes or Amazon MP3. This, for me, has been the frustrating part of the movies-on-computers experience: there are some movies that I want to watch, without having to touch a DVD, that I am ready and willing to pay for, but Hollywood can’t figure out how to take my money.

This doesn’t just apply to movies, but also to other forms of media. I can’t tell you the number of books I have wanted to buy electronic copies of that aren’t available. And I don’t mean “not available on the iBookstore,” or “not available on the Kindle store,” but not available anywhere. The only way someone will sell me some of these books is if I let someone take an axe, chop down a tree, soak it in chlorine bleach, and stain it with the processed juice of long-dead animals and plants. It’s like the publishing industry is composed entirely of ignorant, filthy savages. My solution to this is “I don’t buy the book.” They don’t get my money, and my local library gets more use. Everyone wins except the barbarian who can’t figure out how to take my cash.

We are so close to my ideal media world that it almost hurts. We need to get to a place where we can (legally) watch any movie (or read any book, or hear any song) ever made, wirelessly, with no physical media, on whatever screen we happen to be sitting in front of.