Streaming and Digitization: the Threat of Progress

As I read in Wheeler Dixon’s reading Streaming–Media, Movies and Instant Access, the practices popularly known as streaming and digital downloading has become an essential portion of the entertainment industry and the process of digitization. I found it disturbing and somewhat curious that digitization and intangible media has truly become somewhat of a serious threat towards the traditional physical mediums, and despite the appearance of progress and change, the process of digitization and its promotion has become highly lethal towards the preservation of historical classics and less popular traditional mediums. Digitization and streaming have created a virtual library of information that only appears to be endless. The conversion of media from physical form into virtual is all about one thing: control. This is quite possibly best displayed through what videos are promoted through various streaming and downloading services. The distributors of the services such as Netflix or Amazon could care less about the impossibly vast and deep library of films available in hard form, and only about promoting what will make the most money for them, or the most popular films.

Digitally downloadable media essentially discards works that many would consider “obscure” as well as many others which may be deemed historically significant, as the only motive is profitability, and not the actual preservation of physical history. Each book, no matter how obscure it may seem, adds some form of value towards the human experience, and for movies such as the classics to not be streamable or legally downloadable seems like a crime against history, as the original formats are swept aside in the current digital revolution. This is pointed out by Dixon in the reading, where he emphasizes the losses that will follow a fully digital age, stating that,

In short, we live in a streaming world where everything, inevitably, will be available like running water—all you have to do is pay the utility bill. Of course, there are still large gaps—films, books, and music that haven’t entered the streaming era: films that are too marginal or are strictly controlled by their makers; “orphan” films that have no legal copyright status or no living owners and have thus entered the public domain, making them available to anyone but significantly diminishing their potential for corporate profits; out-of-print books or obscure and arcane texts that no one has bothered to scan; music too experimental or resolutely noncommercial for anyone to take notice. (Dixon, 24)

With these new developments, it raised fears and concerns for me about the safety and preservation of works with historical value, and the fact that digital content promotion is determined by what is deemed popular, and not what is deemed significant. My concern also lies within how they are preserved for future generations, but another concern addressed within the reading was how the works that are so often streamed and placed into digital form only scratch the surface of the works that are clearly available in tangible, physical mediums such as DVDs, Home Videos and books. Because the main concern for publishers and distributors in the case of digital downloading and streaming is profit, services such as Netflix and Amazon will typically ignore a vast quantity of film for a small portion if they cease dealing with physical DVD’s entirely. Is profitability really more valuable than historicity and contributions to general human knowledge and experience? I’d like to think not. While I rarely stream live videos, I did do so for events such as the 2012 Presidential debates through sites such as YouTube, but I know I have friends that stream sports games and use Netflix on their Play Station 3’s in order to download videos.

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