Why Netflix is ruining my life

    Illustration by Nina Lincoff / North by Northwestern

    Like nearly every other college student in America, I am a victim of the Netflix free trial program. It started in June, when, suddenly unencumbered by a usually full Google Calendar, I realized I would have to learn how to waste time again.

    Then it was July, and three seasons of 30 Rock later, and I was shelling out nine bucks a month for the privilege of telling my friends, “Sorry, guys, but Rugrats is on Instant Play. I’ll see you later.”

    But my issue with my Netflix addiction isn’t with the fact that the real world has taken a backseat to an infinite length of time I could spend watching movies on my laptop, or that I can’t manage to get anything done because I want just one more episode of Pushing Daisies, or that I’m crusading against corporations.

    No, it’s about choice.

    You see, due to its appeal, (also being much better) Netflix is pretty much putting Blockbuster — not to mention local movie rental outlets — out of business. Thursday, Blockbuster filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which will probably mean the closing of hundreds of its approximately 3,000 stores.

    Fine. Free market, bitch. This is Amurica.

    The issue I take with Netflix’s world domination is that I like the power of a good store display. Often, I don’t know what I want until I see it, and the Internet doesn’t make that kind of impulse shopping easy. It seems counterintuitive. With movies only a click away, I’m finding it harder and harder to find one I want.

    With Netflix, I’m not worried about shelling out five dollars over a bad movie (my love of 30 Rock makes the once-a-month price more than worth it) but I am worried about what I’m missing. Without a general idea of what I want, Netflix can’t much help me. If the New to Instant Play category doesn’t tickle my fancy, I’m often out of luck. Just because I watched Fargo once doesn’t mean I feel like an array of Critically-acclaimed Visually-striking Crime Movies tonight.

    Though I rarely come out of a video store empty handed, navigating the infinite tubes of the web-based DVD rental experience always leaves me wanting more. Maybe I just couldn’t think of that director whose name might have started with an A, or remembered the proper title for that movie about that one guy, you know, with the face.

    Sometimes, I just need to walk into the store, start at one corner, and browse and dawdle my way through every shelf one by one until I figure out what it is I want. I might realize I keep meaning to see The Beaches of Agnés, or think gee, maybe Step Up 2: The Streets could be worth a go after all.

    And yeah, sometimes I just need a reason to leave my house.

    But Netflix, in its convenient, glorious way, is taking that away from me. It’s making it harder to discover little gems of my own accord. After all, I can’t search for things I know nothing about. It’s easy to find what Netflix wants me to watch, but no matter how many of those starred ratings I fill out, it I’ll never have the time to scan the entire catalogue for what I might want.

    And despite the obscure, strange categories of suggestions it cobbles together for me based on how I decided to gauge my appreciation of Maid in Manhattan on a particular day, I don’t think that’s something it can overcome. How do you rate “loved it, but never want to watch another Jennifer Lopez movie again” on a five point scale? Did I really like Stranger Than Fiction, or did I love it? And how do I replicate that using only vague similarities in theme, cast and style?

    It’s not that Netflix’s website layout hasn’t led me to a few good movies in its time. And it’s sure easier to find every Brad Pitt movie ever made when you have linked tags at your disposal.

    But I fear the day when I can’t walk into a store and run my finger along each DVD case, waiting for something to catch my impulsive eye.

    Just call me a sucker for good, old fashioned product placement.


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