Digital vs. Physical: Convenience? Or Ownership?

May 6, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Jasen Obermeyer

The increase in usage of digital content is massive, ever since high-speed internet not only became a thing, but a feasible, mass-consumed service.

It’s everywhere. From businesses, debit over cash, iTunes over records and CDs, to entertainment, and your own personal use. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney + are seeing a massive increase in subscribers since the pandemic started. It seems digital is the way to go. 

Is it really positive to go all digital? Arguably its greatest strength is saving space. You might have a wall lined with shelves, full of stuff. Digital means it’s all there on your television. Not only do you save space, but money not buying those shelves, money used towards that smart tv to download and stream all your content. If you physically run out of space, you have to decide which show or set of games to either put in storage or sell.

Digital’s other (supposed) biggest strength is convenience. Instead of getting off the couch, opening the Blu-Ray case, taking the disc out and putting it into the player and going back to your couch, it’s simply turn the tv on, scroll to your movie, and hit play. No driving to the store, dealing with people; it’s all in the comfort of your own home. 

Easy, right?

Well, this is a problem with digital. Its convenience is only convenient for those who can afford it, those who buy into it. If you’re out in the country and you don’t have high speed internet, oh well. Even if you have high speed internet, like I do, and others in your house are using it, streaming your show is a hassle. Can’t connect, or the Internet’s down? Sorry, you can’t watch anything. Physical is more reliable than digital.

Anyone can get into physical content, the same can’t be said for digital. Which leads me to one of the biggest issues I have with digital content. 

You don’t own it!

The essence of consumerism is exchanging your hard-earned money to purchase and own a product.

Now with streaming services, you hear they’re removing this show or set of movies. In games they’re shutting down the online servers or taking it off their store. Too bad for you. Like buying a car, and a couple years the later, the dealer comes, takes away your front tires, a mirror, and half the steering wheel.

Digital strips you of your consumer rights. You can sell that used game and get some money back. But digitally, not a penny.

Remember Microsoft’s unveiling of the Xbox One, how it was going to be an online only, digital focus, with anti-consumer policies? Nobody liked it, everyone freaked out, Microsoft utterly blew their foot off, and quickly reversed these decisions, but the damage was done.

You can tell I’m on the side of physical, but I consume digital just on a smaller scale than those around me. I remember when HMV was closing and I panicked, believing that was the end, and worrying how I was not only getting my physical content, but shop for it in person. 

Physical is easy to use, simple and direct, and you actually have the right to own the product. If you’re not a tech person, digital provides nothing but headaches.  

Think digital as providing only a small picture, physical being bigger. 

I enjoy holding the product. I find enjoyment out of flipping pages in a book than swiping left. And I know if something happens, it’s my fault, in my control. Digital, you have no control.

For streaming services, it’s just an overload of content I’m paralyzed by, and when I want to watch something, I put it off. I had Parks and Recreation in my list for over a year before I started watching it. And I find this leads to lower quality in shows, with numerous ones running a season or two and being cancelled, never being allowed to fully grow or end properly. 

Physical isn’t perfect though.

If places like Sunrise Records want to stay in business, they can’t be charging $40 for a DVD. Not a Blu-Ray, and with no extra content. Stores selling physical products need to figure out how to keep people on their side and their business afloat.

Maybe both can live together, in a middle of the road. For creators, don’t push us down one lane. Give consumers options and they’ll happily spend their money. 

Maybe for streaming services, treat it like a Blockbuster, understand it won’t be there forever, it can be taken away anytime. Try a show out, you enjoy it, get the physical copy. For movies or games, get your favourite ones you consume frequently. 

Ultimately, it’s your preference. But what do you prefer and value: Convenience? Or ownership?

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