In a 90s Kinda World, I’m Glad I’ve Got My (DVDs): Physical Media in a Digital Age

I’m a creature of habit. In most scenarios, I don’t like change. Change taunts my anxiety and makes me feel threatened, uncomfortable, and like I have lost whatever control or trust that I might have had. I love a good routine and dependability. Knowing that I can trust a certain aspect of my environment to be consistent is incredibly valuable to me. When I turn on the television at night, I take comfort in seeing The Golden Girls, or Frasier on my screen. Not only are they funny and entertaining, but they’ve become reliable aspects of my routine. I enjoy watching my sitcom reruns, but more than that, they keep me company late at night when I often struggle to find comfort, or sleep.

I’ve always had a pretty dysfunctional relationship with sleep – I remember as a kid closing my eyes and thinking, OK, if I fall asleep right now, I can get five hours of sleep before I have to get up for school. I got in trouble for reading in bed by the light coming through my window, or seeping in my room from another You’ll ruin your eyes!, my mom would scream. Check mate mom – I’ve worn glasses for years (though, I DON’T wear them for reading). I used to love going to sleepovers at my maternal grandmother’s house because she was a night owl. We’d watch I Love Lucy together, or The Golden Girls. We’d head to the grocery store at midnight, cruising around and stopping for DIY sandwiches in the car made from the deli and fresh bread we had bought. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not as much an insomniac as much as someone who just isn’t meant to ascribe to normal sleeping patterns. I’ve come to realize it’s sort of a family thing – my aunt, mother, and sister are all night owls. The difference being for them, is that they can all fall asleep quickly. Me on the other hand, not so much.

Which brings me back to my beloved sitcoms. I welcome their company every night because they’re so familiar. Often times, I find myself lying awake not simply due to insomnia, but because of painsomnia. My joints, nerve pain, or some other discomfort like to keep me awake at night. So having Rose Nylund, Roz Doyle, or even Lucy and Ethel to hang out with me is a nice comfort. But come October, I find myself at a loss because Hallmark likes to go crazy for Christmas and removes their overnight sitcom reruns in favor of their Christmas movies. So I surf around looking for other sitcoms to take comfort in. Luckily there isn’t much of a shortage, and I am grateful that multiple channels air them. During Christmaspalooza, I’m often watching The King of Queens, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, The New Adventures of Old Christine and others.

Christmas has come and gone, and generally, the start of January means that Hallmark goes back to their regularly scheduled programming. This year? Not quite. They’ve changed the schedule, eliminating shows, extending some and reducing others. This creature of comfort was not happy. But I’m not writing this just to bitch about how a television network messed up my routine (although, they did and I’m not gonna lie – I’m bitter about it), I’m writing this because it got me to thinking about a larger issue that has been on my mind a lot recently: digital vs. physical media.

When I got my first iPod I was so freaking excited. FOUR WHOLE GIGABYTES OF MUSIC! It was pink, it was adorable, it had … a headphone jack (wow! how vintage!), and it held a good portion of my music library. All music which I of course, purchased in a legitimate, respectable way. In actuality, a lot of it was music I raided from my mom’s CD collection, the few CDs that I owned myself, a healthy dose of music I borrowed from the library and other sources. I had 4GB to fill! I couldn’t afford to pay $0.99 for each song! Of course, whenever I received a rare iTunes gift card, I would sit on my computer painstakingly choosing which songs I would spend it on. I love music – it was not an easy decision to make.

Over the years, I’ve owned a few different versions of the iPod, and many computers. I’ve always had more music than I could ever fit on one of these little portable players so I’d often make playlists which I’d regularly switch out depending on my mood. I loved having so much variety at my disposal since my musical tastes were pretty varied. However, I’ve also learned that there are costs to opting for digital music. Some of which I find myself now believing outweigh the benefits.

I’ve lost my entire digital library of music at least twice. Thanks to hard drives going corrupt and other technical issues, I’ve lost my digital hoards of music on multiple occasions. Everything. Gone. The first time it happened I was devastated. Music like television, has often provided me a comfort that is hard (perhaps impossible?) to replicate. I didn’t know where to begin. Thankfully, I at least had some music on CD which softened the blow ever so slightly. The second time it happened was perhaps worse. I felt more foolish the second time around. Why hadn’t I anticipated this?? At least it was only about 2,500 songs unlike the first time which had been closer to 5,000. I also didn’t have all of my CDs to fall back on. Thanks to moving dozens of times in my life, there’s always something that gets lost somewhere. Not to mention lending CDs to people, and at some points trading them in for others – because hey, I have a digital library of music! I don’t need the physical copies anymore… right?? RIGHT?!? Oh, how wrong. Building up your library of music from the beginning can take awhile. Doing it multiple times can be overwhelming. I found myself wanting to buy the physical albums of music I liked far more often than I felt a desire to download digitally, but I continued doing both, in addition to getting music from my local library. Losing my collection wasn’t what pushed me away from digital, but it was definitely a part of it.

The evolution of technology is both magnificent and infuriating. We’ve come a long way from the first iPods (I’m not even sure iPods are made anymore??), and in so many ways the advancements of technology – both in terms of entertainment and simply life in general, is impressive. Nearly anything you can think of can now be ordered online and if you’re geographically blessed (I am and I’m not, depending on how you look at it), delivered in a couple of hours or less. We can find practically any TV show or movie and instantly stream it online. The same goes for books, in both audio and visual formats. Even libraries have gotten on the bandwagon, allowing for the borrowing of e-versions of tons of literature. But as technological advancements continue, I don’t always find myself feeling impressed, or even grateful. Sometimes it all just feels like too much. The success of streaming has created a complicated world of entertainment where it feels like everything is living behind a paywall. Between the power of online shopping and digital downloading, brick and mortar stores selling books, movies, and music have, in many regions entirely disappeared (stores are quickly abandoning things like CDs, if they haven’t done so already). You’ve heard of a food desert? Well, I essentially live in an entertainment desert.

As steaming and digital consumption become more standard, we’ve seen repeated increases in cost (gone are the days of $0.99 songs), and changes to technology that I personally find frustrating, like the removal of CD/DVD drives from computers and the removal of the audio jack from iPhones (this one is the one that drives me most nuts). Perhaps I sound crazy, but I feel like companies like Apple really want to remove any options we might have for opting for physical media.

As technology and society evolve, we more or less adapt. All this new technology can often feel incredibly convenient. But is it? In recent years I’ve found myself gravitating more and more toward physical media. Going out of my way to buy the actual CD rather than a digital copy. I never really got into e-readers (I already have too much screen time, too many migraines, and just simply enjoy a real book), or digital copies of movies (hell – I’m still buying DVDs!). My behaviors are in part because I’m a creature of habit, and perhaps partially because I’ve got trust issues when it comes to new technology. I’m also a product of the 80s, which might explain some of my allegiances. But when I read about the fact that we don’t even own the content we “buy” from places like iTunes, I dug my heels in even further. I no longer feel old fashioned for my choices, but rather, I feel smart. No one is coming to my house to take back the album I just purchased. But on iTunes, they literally can do just that. It’s crazy to me.

Which sort of brings me back to the whole sitcom thing and my routine. When I saw that Hallmark had yet again, changed their schedule and removed some of the content I watched, I felt my frustration renew. I’ve been thinking a lot about digital vs. physical media in the past year. In 2019, both Warner Brothers & Disney are set to launch their own streaming platforms. Just last month Netflix nearly broke the internet when it announced that Friends was being removed. The backlash over the news led to them extending the show for one more year (a deal that cost them $80 million). After that, its likely that the show will move from the platform to Warner Brothers. It makes sense that these companies would want to get a better stake of the streaming economy, but when is it all too much? We’ve gone from regular TV, to paying for Cable, and now we have dozens of different streaming services, all offering different content and options. It can quickly add up.

In my house, we have cable and Netflix. That feels like enough. I recently wanted to watch Seinfeld from beginning to end (I had seen nearly every episode many times over the years, but I hadn’t seen them in proper order), but that would have meant signing up for a new streaming service since it’s barely on TV anymore. So I did what anyone in say, 2002, would have done. I purchased the complete series on DVD. I didn’t want to sign up for another service, and as a lover of older sitcoms, I decided it was valuable to me to actually own the series for repeated viewing.

My favorite way to watch TV, whether its new or old programming, is the traditional way: on TV. I like the commercial breaks (they’re Instagram breaks – or bathroom breaks – or snack breaks – or letting the dogs out for the one millionth time breaks)! I also just enjoy the simplicity of it. It’s easy for me to just turn on one of my go-to channels, try to sleep, and turn it off in the morning. But between changes in how content is delivered, accessibility, and knowing that we don’t really own what we purchase digitally, I’ve found myself with an increasing desire to purchase my favorites on DVD. It feels like a security blanket. Knowing that some drastic scheduling change, or content revamp wouldn’t take away what I’ve grown accustomed to.

So while everyone is watching Marie Kondo (on digital, of course) and throwing away their every earthly possession. I’ll be zenned out with my DVDs, CD’s and piles of books. SO MANY BOOKS – because, they all bring me joy, dammit)!




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