We Don’t Need Netflix. Or do we? [On The Contrary] Aug10

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We Don’t Need Netflix. Or do we? [On The Contrary]

About a month ago, the video rental and streaming subscription service Netflix announced that it was nearly doubling its charges for its most popular subscription plan from $7.99 a month to $15.98. Upon hearing this news, we all went ballistic. I certainly did. I’ve been a loyal customer for years, and now they want to raise my rates simply because they can? Well, screw you, Netflix! How about I just cancel my membership altogether? Suck on that!

This was my initial reaction. Of course with time I learned that the plan wasn’t really changing. I could keep getting the one disc at a time for the same price, or for the same price I could simply go without discs and have unlimited streaming of movies. I just had to pay more if I wanted to keep both. And I never actually signed up for both—I just got the free streaming when they added it for no additional price and soon found myself using it more than the discs I get in the mail. So really, they’ve been giving us something for nothing for a while, and now they just want to start charging for the extra stuff.

What I find interesting here is not the story of Netflix or iTunes or the New York Times, or any other Internet content provider that suddenly decides it needs to charge more for its material. What is interesting is how it feels like such a violation to us as consumers—a betrayal of charging more for our basic content consumption necessities. Yes, necessities. Because with most forms of entertainment today, especially entertainment that is regularly fed to us in our homes or on our mobile devices, things have evolved from being exciting frills to our lives to basic human needs.

Once upon a time, the necessities were simple—food and water, shelter, air, and the on a species level sex. Then we developed economies with money as a medium of exchange, and everything got much more complicated. Still, the necessities of life really remained mostly the same for centuries. Then came the modern age with its conveniences which seem to pile up and gain momentum exponentially, like my drunkenness while pounding vodka Red Bulls.

It’s interesting for people my age, because we’ve really ridden the crest of this change in conveniences. I just barely can remember life when we had one television in our house and an antenna that allowed us to get about 4 channels. I remember when we first got a microwave. Then a VCR. Then cable. And eventually, the Internet. Now all of these things are a given in modern middle class households. Sure, the VCR has given way to DVD and computer streaming, and I know a few people who don’t bother with cable, but the Internet has become such a content provider that it is a cousin of cable. Some friends of mine proudly declare “I don’t have cable,” but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t catch them without a high speed Internet connection.

Some things have become legitimate necessities for our work. It is expected that we are always reachable on cell phones, or that we have a computer with internet access for research or email correspondence. It’s hard to write a post for Fierce and Nerdy without a computer. But what about streaming video? Music? Video games? HBO original series? These things have become so important to some of us that paying the monthly bills feels no different than paying our rent or utilities. Where once they were a luxury, now they are a necessary part of life.

It’s kind of amazing how marketing, convenience, and just getting used to having something can transform a treat into something life sustaining. Before I joined Netflix in the mid-Aughts, I only rented movies sporadically every couple of months, and only when I felt moved to do so. There were plenty of things to see in the theater, and plenty of books to read in the meantime. When I joined, however, the convenience and steady flow of entertainment turned me into a binge viewer. Over time I developed moderation to my Netflix consumption, but like a microwave, I can no longer imagine life without the easy access to the content Netflix provides. Netflix entered my life and laid its eggs in my brain—eggs that hatched and now the parasitic larvae whisper to me that I need Netflix like I need oxygen. (A gross image I know, but addiction to consumption makes me feel kind of dirty.)

Of course I don’t need it. Or cable. Or an app on my iPhone that makes sounds like a lightsaber. Or even a microwave, really. But I feel like I do. And you probably feel like you do as well. Since we don’t have to hunt for food, raise crops, seek out water, or build shelters and fires, we need something to fill the time. So maybe entertainment is a necessity to our lives.

If that’s the case, Netflix is really sticking it to us with this cost increase when so many people are having such financial trouble. As a bleeding heart liberal, I think we need to institute a program for low-income families to support them in the rising costs of Netflix subscriptions. It’s the only way to insure equal access to the American dream for everyone.

Of course, it might be difficult to persuade this Congress to pass that. Maybe it would be better as a California ballot initiative. Prop 15.98?

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featured image credit: LauraFries.com