Streaming threatens to wash us away with too much content

Remember when your TV “remote control” used to be talking someone else into getting up and walking over to the big box and turning the channel manually on a large dial?

And remember when that large dial on the big box used to have a choice of two – count ’em – two channels?

Of course, I’ve only heard of this phenomenon (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), but it is my understanding this happened regularly not that long ago.

So how did we suddenly get to a universe where you can pick up a rectangular piece of plastic, or sit at a computer screen, press a few buttons, and instantly have a staggering choice of hundreds, if not thousands, of channels?

All of them containing mostly soul-crushing reality TV, second-rate movies, obsolete sitcoms or mind-numbing documentaries.

OK, to be fair, it’s not all wasted celluloid (there’s a new word for you to look up, kids!). In and amongst the vacuous volley of viewing options there are, of course, some gems. Like Get Smart, The Flintstones, M*A*S*H and Friends.

And I’m pretty sure there are lots from this century as well. I just can’t think of any at the moment.

All of this has recently gotten, well, bat-spit crazy on account of a thing that never used to be a thing. It’s called streaming. And we’re not talkin’ standing on a bank with a fly rod.

We’re talking streaming as a technology that brings unlimited content to your TV or computer screen in a continuous flow, so that you can watch an entire season (or two or three or…) of, say, Peaky Blinders or The Office or 217 episodes of Jeopardy! in one long, exhausting sitting.

As long as you have a fridge full of snacks, and toothpicks to hold your eyelids open, your streaming service keeps cranking stuff out for you to absorb. Like a sponge. A sponge with PayPal.

This obsessive viewing is another new phenomenon with an old name: binging.

Binging used to involve eating or drinking to excess something that could potentially kill you. Binging when it comes to streaming is the same thing, only it involves staring at a screen for hours (days?) on end. This is also called a lobotomy. I know, I’ve been there.

Remember when you had to wait with an odd mix of anticipation and frustration for a whole week for the next episode of your favourite show? Seven whole days to find out who killed JR, if Jim and Pam finally get together, or what will happen to Rachel at Ross’ wedding to Emily!

Nowadays, you just grab the remote, another beverage and a third bag of chips and click away! And depending on your point of view, it’s only getting better – or worse.

This week, Disney plunged headlong into the fray with a new streaming service called Disney+. For about nine beans a month, you can have 500 films and 7,500 episodes of TV shows. But, hey, maybe you already have Netflix. And maybe Amazon Prime. Or perhaps Crave?

They call it content crush and, boy, are we feeling the weight. A quick search on the old interweb told me that there are now at least 13 streaming services you can pay for if you just don’t have any kind of life at all.

Too much moola for mediocre media? No problem, there are at least 15 free sites that stream video in Canada. Enough to keep us all binging till the cows come home.

Still, as they say: “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker.

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