Ever since it was announced that Blockbuster would close its remaining stores, I’ve wondered what would happen at the corner of Broadway and Blenheim. A wifi-wielding coffee shop? A wildly out-of-place H&M? An all-you-can-eat, gluten- and sugar-free cake buffet?
Our local Blockbuster was the source of many fond memories — and many late fees, until we finally concluded that the marginal advantage of watching a movie on Blu-Ray was outweighed by the virtue of renting on iTunes, and never having to worry about returning another movie. Obviously, we were not alone: the demise of the local video store is the flip side of the rise of iTunes, Netflix, Amazon and of course, bittorrent.
When technology removes something from our physical or cultural landscape, it’s usually to make room for something new. That new thing may represent a huge leap forward: every time I rent a movie on iTunes I marvel at the instant gratification of watching the movie almost as soon as I pick it. No walk to the store, no wait until it finishes downloading.
The new thing could involve some loss, too. I horrified a couple of colleagues this week with the revelation that I virtually never go out to movies. There aren’t that many movies that are worth $100, I said, which is what it costs two people to see a movie once you factor in the cost of a babysitter. My colleagues didn’t argue, but reflected on what you miss when watching on even the biggest home screen: the experience of conviviality, the sense of an event.
When the old thing disappears, it’s often before we’ve fully made up our minds about the new thing. Is it a gain? A loss? A bit of both?
And sometimes, the old thing dies before the new thing has a chance to appear. Blockbuster closed down months ago, but I am still waiting to see what comes next.