Streaming: the past, present, and future

The past: It’s all relative. That’s probably one of the most applicable phrases when talking about technology. We often label the days without streaming services as “simpler times” without considering the context in which past generations lived. Sometimes, they’d rely on routinely scheduled programs, resting assured that their favorite sitcom would appear every Tuesday at 8 PM; other times, they’d browse through vast collections of DVDs and VHS tapes to rewatch a movie for the seemingly one-hundredth time. Albeit in-person mediums, Blockbuster and Redbox quickly became the links to new content, essentially serving as the modern equivalents of Netflix.

Yes, looking back, those days may seem “simple” to us. But for many, those days were colored by unprecedented options and complexities, relative to witnessing and experiencing past limited access to media. Blockbuster, Redbox, and even the television alone were revolutionary to those who knew nothing else, just as our current digital media might become outdated in the years to come.

The present: Who could’ve predicted the massive impact streaming services would have on our access to digital media? 2007 witnessed the emergence of Netflix; 2008, the emergence of Hulu; 2019, the emergence of Disney+. The list goes on, with 165 million hours watched daily across the globe on Netflix alone. All it takes to gain access is internet connection, a device with a screen, and less than 20 bucks per month. It’s like a digital utopia: thousands of programs available with the click of a button. We no longer need gas to get to a video store or remote controls to robotically click through channels.

But is it really all that different? Our media consumption has certainly changed, but upon closer inspection, the similarities are glaring.

Sure, content options have quadrupled. We expect everything to come at an on-demand rate so we can binge watch entire seasons without interruption. We even find ourselves posting to social media to bond with strangers over that one plot-twisting scene. Yet, we still have our routines. We make pacts with our families and friends to watch programs of mutual interest together at specified times. We take our time in choosing what to watch, swayed by ratings and critics. We use media as a way to connect, a way to share laughs and anger and cries. The mediums have changed, but have our behaviors?

The future: History repeats itself. The future is guaranteed to see even greater technological developments and advancements toward the online sphere. Perhaps, the television may become obsolete in similar fashion to Blockbuster and Redbox. Years down the line, streaming may evolve into a powerful medium beyond our wildest expectations. Future generations may look back on 2020 with sentiments similar to our current views on past generations’ access to media. Moreover, streaming in 2020 could eventually be considered a mere stepping stone to future media hubs. However, like we’ve repeatedly observed, we’ll always be drawn to a basic human need: meaningful connection to others beyond the digital realm.