The Internet has brought with it many things both good and bad, but by far my favourite thing about it is to do with video.
No, I’m not talking about YouTube generally — the whole “anyone with a webcam can make videos!” culture it promotes feeds into modern youth’s unhealthy obsession with “being famous” — but rather the fact that, between the various streaming services out there, both legitimate and… less legitimate, there is probably some way of watching all those programmes/adverts/movies you wish you still had 1) the VHS tapes for and 2) something to play them with.
This last week, for example, Andie and I have watched Police Squad!, the TV-based precursor to the Naked Gun movies. Only six episodes were made, and back at university, when I “discovered” the show for the first time, I had a VHS cassette with two of them on it, so I had only ever seen those two episodes. Now, however, some helpful Polish person has kindly uploaded the whole lot onto YouTube for anyone to enjoy at their leisure. No waiting for TV networks to license them and show them again. No tracking down video tapes and VCRs. Just click and go.
The ability to rediscover old favourites is one of the best things about streaming video, then, as my rewatch of Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first time in about ten years will attest. But the fact that streaming services makes new favourites easier than ever to discover, too, is rather wonderful. I doubt I’d have become so interested in anime without my Crunchyroll subscription, for example; prior to widespread streaming video, the only real way to get into anime was to buy VHS tapes or DVDs, and with anime being niche-interest and somewhat “exotic”, particularly when it first hit these shores in the mid-90s, it was a rather expensive hobby. Anime DVDs and Blu-Rays still cost up to twice as much as a regular ol’ Western film even today, making online services like Crunchyroll much better value.
This is the TV of the 21st century, then; it really is the vision of the future we had twenty, thirty years ago: decide what you want to watch, then just watch it. In most cases, that’s possible to do, even if you have strange, bizarre and peculiar tastes. And even if you’re more fucked up than most, I can almost guarantee that there’s some dark corner of the Internet out there somewhere more than willing to cater to your particular interests, whatever they might be… for better or worse.
In these days of people seemingly constantly yelling at one another on social media and comments sections on large sites being widely (and, sometimes, justifiably) regarded as fetid cesspits, it’s easy to forget the great and wonderful things that the Internet has brought to modern life. I’m a strong believer that its ability to “archive” — for future generations to be able to enjoy movies, TV shows, animations and other videos from years ago — is one of the best things about it. And as technology improves and we find more and more ways to interact with this world-wide network, I hope we never lose sight of these simple pleasures that it’s allowed us to enjoy like never before.