In the 1980′s my family subscribed to HBO and Cinemax. My dad ran RG6 coaxial cable throughout the drafty two story 1830′s house so that all the TV’s could get cable. We also owned a Toshiba Betamax VCR complete with a corded remote control. During the then long, cold pre-global warming Western NY winters, we occupied ourselves by busily recording every movie we could on the non-commercial interrupted broadcasts provided by pay cable. Blazing Saddles, Slapshot, Indiana Jones, The Star Wars Trilogy (the real one), Stripes, Airplane, Used Cars, on and on. We eventually amassed a collection of several hundred titles and watched the tapes so many times that to this day my brother and I can still recite many scenes from memory. The setup wasn’t really entirely legal, but it was generally treated as a big joke. The Dead Kennedy’s even left a side of their 1981 EP cassette tape blank so you could help!
For most of my lifetime, movies, music, and computer software have been obtainable from a friend, easily copyable and added to one’s collection with a trivial amount of technical knowhow; just as it was always quite easy to receive a one way signal from a cable television provider and copy that signal to magnetic tape or hard disk drive. Both of these systems are closed and under control of the collector, as the broadcaster or media creator have sent their signals out into the world without really tracking them or knowing what the end user might be doing with them.
These days I no longer subscribe to cable. I don’t have much free time and there never seemed to be anything on worth watching. So I purchased a Samsung Web Connected Blu-ray Player a few years back and scaled back to Netflix and an internet connection to save a few bucks a month. My kids watch most of the same shows as their friends with cable – Yo Gabba Gabba, the Wonder Pets, Phineas and Ferb, and Dora the Explorer – and I can always find something interesting or entertaining for myself (although my wife complains about the lack of Bravo).
Still, I no longer really collect anything because it’s all there “on-demand” for me to watch. And moreover, Netflix now collects everything my family and I watch and can subsequently use that information for its own purposes because I ceased collecting in my own closed system and began providing them with what I might likely collect.
I suppose this isn’t entirely a bad thing because I don’t have to lug “my collection” around with me, which is good because I’ve moved 8 times in the last 10 years. But I find it rather odd that when faith in American institutions is crumbling, people are perfectly willing to give away their collections of videos, music, software, and even their friends to faceless corporations whose only real aim is to generate profits for their shareholders by any means necessary.
The ends of this surveillance society we are generating with our collections that we willingly gave away will inevitably generate a bombardment of marketing material and Orwellian monitoring. Those like myself who once thought they thought differently have now plugged in, thus willingly becoming one with the drone.