This article from Apartment Therapy is the first I have seen to try to correlate the ‘rent vs own’ shift in digital media to actual renting and owning in the real world. I have myself observed the logic and inevitably of the rise of streaming media—why should I own 500 DVDs when I can pay 8 bucks a month to Netflix and watch anything I want? But I think the fine folks at AT take it a step too far when they start comparing that to something like a car or a house.
I do agree with them that people my age—the first generation of so-called cord-cutters, who are in large numbers doing away with land lines and cable television and other things our parents paid for without questioning—do have less of a tie to the idea of ‘owning’ things. I have no problems with the idea of streaming media. There are a few DVDs (and books) I have held onto in physical form because they are beloved and I don’t want to be beholden to the rights agreements of a streaming media company for continued access. But let’s be realistic here, the Beloved and I watch about an hour of Netflix every night, and the percentage of it that we would actually watch again is slight. We’ve been enjoying past seasons of House and Dragon’s Den lately, for instance, and they are fine entertainment. I don’t regret watching them. But this is not timeless and eternal stuff and if Netflix took it away tomorrow, I’d find something else and not even miss it.
I see the kids getting even more accustomed to the streaming model than me. I think my toddler stepson will be greatly entertained someday by the idea that his dad and I used to spend our time downloading music and books and keeping them on our computers. The idea that I even had a special software program I could use to sort and organize the files—it’s ridiculous. There are so many books out there. He’ll start out on some school-based website one day (Raz-Kids, for example, which is the ebook-based arm of the Reading A-Z website my own school uses) that targets the books to his reading level. Why would you need to re-read such books? You work through level 1, then you’re on level 2 and it’s done. From there, he’ll move onto getting public library books straight onto a tablet or phone, but I think that the mentality he’ll grow up identifying with is that same transience. You read it, and it’s done, and then you read something else. The rights issues argument will be moot.
I don’t think it’s anything like a house, though. That one to me is pure economics. I live in such an over-heated housing market that I could never afford to buy here, and that’s fine with me. I enjoy, as a renter, predictable monthly expenses. I save and invest and am doing just fine. But it has nothing to do with my ‘feelings’ on owning vs renting as a principle.
I am OK with the subscription service such as Netflix as I know that I am only paying for an access right to watch the programs. If I really want to keep a copy of one particular program, I can buy the DVD. However, I don’t like the idea of suppposingly “buying” a book on Amazon or other websites, which actually are DRMed and you only have the access rights. They can decide to delete your account (or they go out of business), then you will never be able to read your books again (It is troublesome for me to deDRM the books). If it is possible to get a printed copy of a book, I would rather buy a printed copy and give it to someone else (if I decide not to keep it) than “buying” an electronic copy. Yes, you cannot give or sell your electronic copy as you don’t own it.