On death, disruption and discs

Every startup’s moonshot dream is to be the one that disrupts the status quo.

Disruptive technologies are innovations that come to replace a process, a product, or technology that is already well-established, giving rise to a new way to operate, be it for consumers, organizations, or both. — SYDLE

The steam engine, for instance, gave rise to an entire industrial revolution. The printing press put a lot of monks out of work while Ford’s automobile assembly-line made mincemeat of the horse-and-buggy business. Amazon, Apple, AirBnb, Uber, Netflix, Spotify, Tesla, Bitcoin, birth control pills, blue LEDs, digital photography, and USB drives are but some of the other names and products that might be tucked away under the blanket term of “disruptive innovations”.

Every inventor strives to be the seed of a disruptive innovation. Most aren’t.

Most, at best, are evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary, and it typically takes years to achieve global reach – let alone immediate adoption at such a pace that what came before it is consigned to the rubbish heap overnight. The last true game changer that impacted me personally was the recordable CD: it allowed me to get rid of hundreds of floppy diskettes, hoard mountains of data, and launched several other obsessions.

That was in the last millennium. I consider most technological innovations part of the normal development cycle.

The latest disruption snuck in via Netflix and my wife.

One day we decided to rearrange the furniture (as people are wont to do), and suddenly there was no place for her DVD collection in the TV cabinet. Truth be told, we don’t even have a player connected anymore, and her DVDs soon found themselves in a box in the basement archives.

Many of her movies (with the obvious exception of the Disney stuff) have appeared on Netflix over the years. Some we watched again, most we didn’t bother with on account of sheer selection and the lustre of new releases. This would likely hold true for most households, in the same way that when you’re at a buffet you’re going to try all the foods you don’t normally dish up at home.

Then, just the other day, that old classic, Jaws, surfaced on Netflix.

I spontaneously decided to watch it (for the umpteenth time) because I was curious about the image quality, knowing about its restoration project. And it looked good!

This got me thinking about my own movie collection and general viewing habits again.

I can’t remember when I last watched Jaws but it must have been a good ten years or more. In fact, Jaws was the very movie that launched my DVD collection in 2001 (to replace a VHS copy). What I also forgot was the last time that I actually stood in front of my DVD cabinet, head tilted right, deciding on what to watch out of sheer boredom or time to kill. There used to be a certain pride and joy in my humble (yet very select) collection but its raw entertainment value has diminished thanks to the convenience of Netflix as well as, to a certain extent, a shift of priorities in life. I have no idea when I’ll find the time or desire to slog through yet another sitting of the extended version of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy (let alone its special features) at standard resolution.

Sure, LOTR and Jaws are among the films worthy of an upgrade to 4K Ultra-HD media but I’m certainly not in that same mad rush that I was in when splurging on DVDs in lieu of VHS. I’m a fussy consumer – rarely have I spent money on a DVD without having seen the movie on the silver screen (or on DVD) beforehand. Like my core CD collection, my DVDs are an integral part of my very being. I define myself by the books and the movies in my shelf. Yes, I’m kind of weird that way.

This is in stark contrast to my wife who would occasionally buy a movie just so she has something to watch later that night. Afterwards it would get slotted in amongst the others – irrespective whether it was worth seeing again or best left to gather dust. She didn’t care much for the physical object; to her it’s as consumable as the bag of chips she munched while watching it.

That role has now been taken over by Netflix. There are no financial regrets or physical debris if a movie turns out to be a stinker.

Like for most other streaming users, her DVDs have outlived their usefulness.

They have neither sentimental nor financial value – the latter due to DVDs having been superseded by Blu-Ray (which, in turn, is getting supplanted by 4K discs), and, as a result, the second-hand market is overflowing with DVDs and Blu-Rays. Here, for instance, is just some of the stuff being given away — for free — that I found in my immediate radius during a quick search on Kleinanzeigen.

Gratis! Free to good home!

It’s certainly a buyer’s market now.

While the art of collecting physical media isn’t exactly new, there does seem to be a new breed of movie enthusiasts out there who pride themselves in scouring up not only freebies and digging through garage sales and department store bargain bins but, of course, owning their own favourites as well as the classics. The hunt is part of the thrill. Limited steelbooks and extravagant anniversary editions from boutique labels such as Criterion are obviously the most highly sought-after items.

Hoarders and collectors on YouTube with something to say about their latest haul

One might’ve expected that the majority are Generation Xers but no, it appears that a surprising number are young — and men, as collectors tend to be — who are effectively amassing time capsules of cultural touchstones, knowing that they might exist no more in a future where streaming/download services have to remove, censor or modify content and effectively rewrite history due to licensing issues, or in order to cater to the fragile sensibilities of the woke or because something is not inclusive enough.

There’s a bit of a generational shift in motivation.

Make no mistake – I’m a fan of Netflix. Its convenience and quality trumps DVD. It’s eliminated trips to the video rental store and all dependance on linear TV (because German TV is an atrocity).

But never trust a cloud to float around forever.

Who in their right mind placed faith in (now defunct) services like Flixster or Ultraviolet in order to view a DRM-riddled SD-quality “digital copy” of a movie they just purchased (read: already own) on a restricted number of devices via a digital locker service that will invariably evaporate in the future? It makes no sense to me.

It’s a known fact that the bitrate (read: quality) of streaming services doesn’t approach that of physical BD or 4K discs but let’s also be realistic here: do we really NEED to see shows like Baby Reindeer or Young Sheldon in real UHD and/or HDR10? Most every recent offering looks “quite decent” on my 65″ 4K TV (caveat: I did abort Star Trek: Deep Space Nine because of appalling picture quality).

Streaming is good enough for basic consumption, physical is for true fans and connoisseurs – perhaps mirroring the comeback of vinyl and CDs despite the ubiquity of Spotify or YouTube. Discs have a tangible charm over and above longevity and a quality that the cloud (read: streaming) cannot offer yet despite some of the transferred/transcoded content not being without its own flaws due to digital noise reduction (DNR).

Also, I suspect that 4K Ultra-HD will be the final consumer-targeted physical disc format.

Let’s assume for a moment that I should re-purchase the 4K UHD-BD restored version of Jaws: How many more times would I, realistically, watch the movie before I die? Certainly as soon as I have it in my hands, and then… what, another two or three times?

Buying a new player and upgrading my current two metres of DVD shelf space might make me feel snobbish as well as stroke my collector’s ego – but at what cost, and for whom but myself? Are they an investment for the future when discs are superseded by a superior form of physical media and they inevitably become a scarce novelty once they pass through the trough of no value?

Time will tell, and I’ll probably be dead by then.

There’s always new content available on Netflix, and I have another few hundred discs worth of unwatched movies stashed away in the basement.

I am a hoarder and collector. This is my latest haul (without YouTube).

Adding injury to indecision, last month we had a major rainstorm and the basement got flooded. Some of those discs got damaged – not destroyed entirely – but damaged nonetheless because they were in cardboard boxes not raised high enough from the floor.

Oh, that little incident sure as hell disrupted my week!

As it turns out, neither digital streams nor physical discs will weather the inexorable passage of time; all that remains are our memories — until we, ourselves, die.

Nothing lasts forever.

All photos and screengrabs by Herby Hönigsperger unless specified otherwise.

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