Has the Internet cheapened experiences?

posted by Jeff | Thursday, April 13, 2023, 5:30 PM | comments: 0

Ugh, this is going to suck, because it's feeling like I'll be falling into the classic "now you're your parents" trap. But unlike the Boomers, my generation experienced a profound transformation, in adulthood, in how we do literally everything. Because the Internets.

Let me give some context. One can, today, subscribe to a streaming music service, and at the very moment something comes out, hear it instantly. Even if they don't, they can buy a file that can be played back everywhere, also instantly. When I was in college, you would read about some new album coming out, or hear it on college radio, wait for it, then physically go to a store and buy that physical CD, which was awesome because you could skip around fast, unlike the cassettes you bought in high school. Or, you did another Columbia House subscription, and got ten CD's for a dollar, with the promise to buy three more at a 40%-ish markup, and they came slow, by US Postal Service, in weeks after you mailed in the card to them. My point is that the immediacy you get today lessens the investment in what you eventually get. When you had to wait, you were going to listen to an entire album, and you were going to listen to it a lot, until you decided whether or not you liked it. It certainly helped back then that there was an effort to craft albums, 40+ minute experiences, and not just a hit single to get clicks.

It hasn't changed everything though. Buying tickets to see a band life is decidedly awful because of the Ticketmaster monopoly, and the feds reluctance to break it, but admittedly it's better than going to a mall, waiting in line at a department store for U2 tickets, and then not getting them because they sold out. Weirdly, the seller was still Ticketmaster, but in 1992 I was gonna pay maybe $30 for that ticket. A lot for the time, but let me tell you about the buying tickets to see Tears For Fears, in the sixth row last year, for $330 each. There was a certain equity among fans back in the day, but now, it depends on what you can afford. Having been to no shows at all in years, plus Covid, plus Garbage opening, plus being in my late 40's, I was ready to spend whatever it would take. Fortunately, the feeling in the moment of seeing a good show, months after you bought the tickets, has not changed. Seeing that show last year is one of the best things I've experienced in maybe the last decade. I'm not even exaggerating.

Going back to buying stuff, in the last four months I've bought a lot of peripheral gear to make my movie, and obtaining it has been stupid easy. It's still a thrill to get it, but the thing that has totally changed is the in-person shopping experience. Today, we read reviews, watch video reviews, research products in a matter of minutes. We used to have to go to stores and look at stuff, and wander around in a store trying to decide if it was the right thing. I remember in particular this agony over buying some Bose bookshelf speakers. That turned out to be a good choice. Over 25 years later, they're what's still sitting in my living room, sounding amazing (with the help of a subwoofer I bought late last year). Extend this to the buying of music and movies as well. The act of buying a physical thing was so different.

Travel... that's actually better. For my first honeymoon in 2000, Stephanie and I spent quality time with a travel agent, at a AAA office (we were members!), to book our thing. And when we got to the Big Island of Hawaii and were disappointed, we called them and they put us back on a plane to Kauai, and we paid nothing for the hotel we hated. Today, you book stuff online, and you're good, ready to go. Still, taking a big swing to cruise Northern Europe, we used a travel agent for that, and to be honest, she added almost nothing to the process at all. Even now, I still need to book the bookend hotels, and I'm going to do that myself. Heck, she got credit for the cruise, and we even started that process with a 10%-off placeholder booked onboard on a previous cruise.

During the Internet-proper era, let's say the last 15-ish years, I've certainly made some larger purchases online, but it wasn't the same. I think about how I've replaced my home theater receiver twice in that time, because the technology evolved. If it was 1999, I would have been in a Best Buy over the course of weeks, going up and down the aisle looking at these devices, trying to decide what was right for me, physically seeing and touching the devices. But in this time, I just read about the specs, read the reviews, and determined if they would meet my needs. The outcomes were absolutely better, but oddly less satisfying. For reference, I found my old Sony dual-well cassette deck, and as soon as I find my tapes, I'm gonna plug it in and bask in the analog glory.

Honestly, things are better now, but there was definitely something more exciting about the tactile experience of in-person commerce, especially for expensive things. I mean, our last two cars were purchased entirely online, and few things felt as exciting as new car smell and test driving.


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