Remember the food processor on Star Trek? You just told it what you wanted, hit a button, and a fully prepared dish appeared, almost instantly. It was almost comical if it weren’t so darn appealing. In the 1970s, Francis Coppola, the hippest creative cat in San Francisco, was so connected and sophisticated that he could pick up a phone and shortly thereafter he could watch a 16mm print of many classic movies on his home projector, ordered from the collections in the Pacific Film Archive. Almost no one in America could really do that. For a film fan, it was a remarkable luxury and privilege.
Today almost every bit of moving video content ever created over the past 100 years is now archived and available on DVD. The majority of it is in warehouses of Netflix. For a few dollars each month, any person in America is a couple days away from any movie ever created. But increasingly, each of us is within an instant from watching this collection. Today only maybe 10% of the theatrical filmed content is on demand (whether from Netflix or from other sources as well). That number will increase a little more every year, until in three or five or whatever years, so much of that enormous library will be instantly available that further increases won’t matter at all. Already, last night, I had an evening where I wanted to watch a film, and the options were paralyzing. The joke at the earlier part of the 1990s was “57 channels and nothing’s on”* (which rapidly grew to thousands of channels with less and less quality content)**, but it is just as debilitating to have a queue of dozens or hundreds of things that you’d actually kinda like to watch- -- not, as it has been in history – limited by availability or the whim of some corporation with an agenda, but unfettered. New-found freedom and new burden of responsibility. It’s all my decision: a documentary about Bach, a classic like The Maltese Falcon, a mindless end-of-the world sci-fi flick… and so on… there are hundreds of really good options, not at all like wasting an evening with whatever moronic sitcom NBC cranked out for me to waste this part of the evening. Now I’m choosing that moronic sitcom not just over all the other moronic sitcoms on the other stations at this hour, or the mediocre recorded options from the past few days, but I'm saying I want to watch this moronic sitcom more deeply than ANYTHING ELSE ever made. Time shifting that crap starts to feel foolish when there is so much quality content all over the place, finally. So do I go for the Twinkies now that mom is out for a bit? Or do I at least try to have a balanced meal?
* 1992 song by Bruce Springsteen.
** LA Times, October 11, 2005 “4,000 channels and nothing’s on”