The loss of physical media

Houston McLauryOpinion Columnist

In my childhood home, back in the early 2000s, my family and I had a VHS and DVD player. From as early as I can remember, I remember that gray box that could play any multitude of movies: Aladdin, Barbie: Fairytopia -that movie introduced me to Bibble- and when I was older, the entirety of the Avatar the Last Airbender series on DVD. Some of these movies I still have in their DVD boxes and some of the VHS tapes in their cardboard boxes with cheesy pictures and titles on the front. Why do I bring up this snapshot of a time from my childhood? One simple reason: Streaming.

In 2023, streaming has been a godsend to many college students, allowing many to stream their favorite movies, favorite tv shows, and even their favorite songs to any device they may own. On your phone, you can watch the entire Godfather series, or on your computer, you can watch the entirety of The Last of Us. This doesn’t even account for the fake video games, which could once be ordered in disks or cartridges, but now require download times for basic installations and updates as well. As technology progresses, the world loses its previous obsolete technologies. But, just because these items are obsolete does not mean they do not serve a purpose. The main purposes are the reliability of owning physical media, the nostalgia it can bring to people, and because of the innate joy of physical objects that it gives me. 

First, what do I mean by the reliability of physical media? Well, by this I mean that having physical media, CDs, Cassette Tapes, DVDs, VHS, all of these items cannot be taken from a person unless stolen. Meanwhile, take a look at the multitude of streaming services out there in the world. At the end of each month, TV shows and movies are always taken away from platforms, making these streaming services unreliable for someone who wants to enjoy a full TV show. Now, this may be done simply because another streaming service bought the rights to that media so that they would be able to stream it on their own service, which is fine. However, sometimes media can be taken down from services with no explanation and no other home for them, resulting them to the confines of Amazon video where episodes can be bought for $2 apiece. This unsustainability and unreliability are what make the original physical copies so much better for me. With these physical copies, they are preserved in their original state, untampered, and with little fear of losing this media due to another service buying the rights to them. Now, of course, these physical copies can get damaged through the scratching of a disk, magnetic loss in VHS, and a variety of other harms. However, if proper care is taken, these media can last longer than most new shows do on Netflix.

Another facet of physical media is the nostalgia that can come with it. For me, this nostalgia comes when handling VHS tapes, since a multitude of movies I saw as a child were on these tapes. I can remember having to hold down the rewind button at the end of each movie I saw when I was young, watching as the scenes flew by in a multitude of colors and lights, and being amazed at the images I saw. When I pick up a VHS I used to watch and I rewind that tape, I am instantly transported back to when I was young, watching those fascinating colors fly in reverse across the screen. An innate joy flows over me as I sit in front of the television, simply rewinding. And this doesn’t just fall to the VHS, but to other older technologies as well, transporting people back to their younger days if they use vinyl, a cassette tape, or any other multitudes of media. 

Lastly, this is a personal point that I must give to physical media, but it’s nonetheless a good one. Being able to hold something, to hold it up and say without a doubt in one’s mind that “This is mine,” is something that is getting harder and harder to do. With streaming services and online media dominating the landscape, there are very few pieces of media we can hold and say are our own. Now, this may not be a problem to most people, but for me, I want to be able to hold onto my favorite TV shows, my favorite albums, or my favorite movies. Being able to hold onto them, to say that I have it in a way that can’t be undermined by a streaming service, makes owning the media a better experience.

No one can stop progress, let alone technological progress, but I cannot overstress the want -or the need- to physically own media. As our world becomes more and more digitized, and less of what we own is physical, we must cling to the physical as much as we can. And starting with a favorite movie, or TV show, is not a bad start. 

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