The rise of streaming services on the Internet was a revolutionary shift when it came to the world of media. No more would content be pumped in to homes in a one-way fashion, broadcast by major conglomerates and government-run organizations. Instead, individuals would be free to hunt for content suiting their own desires on an all-you-can-watch basis.
It’s led to a paradigm shift in the way we consume media. However, it’s also led to immense frustration thanks to the overwhelming amount of content on offer. Let’s take a look at why that is, and some creative ways you can get around the problem.
The Paradox of Choice
Traditionally, when it came to media, there were two major arms of delivery: broadcast, and home media. One might listen to the radio, or flick on the TV, or alternatively, spin up a record, or select a movie to watch on tape. If none of those options sufficed, one might take a walk down to the local video store to rent something more appealing.
Fundamentally, it was an era in which choices were limited. There were a handful of TV stations to choose from, and if nothing good was on, you could go as far as finding something watchable on tape or going without. Many will remember afternoons and evenings spent watching reruns or a Friday night movie that had been on a million times before. Some shows went as far as becoming legends for their seemingly endless replay, from The Simpsons to M*A*S*H.
As the Internet grew, though, the game started to change. Torrent websites and streaming services came along, offering up the sum total of the world’s cultural output for free, or for a nominal cost for those averse to piracy. Suddenly when it came to choosing a movie to watch, one wasn’t limited to the five or so films on at the local cinema, nor what was left on the shelves at the local video rental. Instead, virtually any movie, from the invention of the format, could be yours to watch at a moment’s notice.
With so many options on the table, many of us find it harder to choose. It’s an idea popularly known as the Paradox of Choice, a term popularized by US psychologist Barry Schwartz in 2004. When our options are limited to a select few, choice is easy. They can quickly be compared and ranked and an ideal option chosen.
Add thousands of choices to the pile, and the job escalates in complexity to the point of becoming overwhelming. With so many different choices to contrast and compare, finding the mythical right choice becomes practically impossible.
Anyone who’s ever jumped on a streaming service to hunt for something to watch will be familiar with the paralyzing feeling. Rows of colored icons streaming past, barely-recognizable titles fluttering by. Each scroll seeking for a simple standout option, but only revealing yet more to choose from. The pressure builds with the knowledge that making a bad choice is surely inexcusable when virtually everything ever filmed is an option. Whether you’re looking for a movie to watch or you just want to catch an old episode of Cheers out of the hundreds that were made, the sheer volume of choices is overwhelming.
Respite is at Hand
There are some workarounds, of course. One such method is to remember that picking a movie is not a life-or-death choice (usually), and that merely finding something good enough will usually suffice. The streaming world also comes with a secondary benefit in that there’s no need for commitment. If the film is unwatchably bad, you can always pick another.
If it’s a more regular issue you face, however, you might consider the value in giving up choice entirely. Many hackers have yearned for the days when they could flip on the TV and catch an episode of their favorite show, without having to pick from the entire back catalogue themselves. Builds like the Simpsons TV stack a golden collection of episodes on a Raspberry Pi. The played back continually at random, akin to the 24-hour marathons popular on cable TV back in the day. For an even more authentic build, you can use an RF modulator to pump out the video as if it’s coming in on its very own TV channel.
Services exist to help you choose movies to watch, too. Sites like the Random Movie Picker and PickAMovieForMe ask a series of simple questions before making suggestions on what to watch. Netflix Roulette does much the same, with a focus on titles actually available on that specific service. Meanwhile, Date Night Movies takes two suggestions and offers up a series of titles that meet somewhere in the middle.
Overall, there’s some value to be had in these systems that take entire movie catalogues and boil them down to a handful of options for us to choose from. Often, when we’re picking something to watch, we’re looking to relax and unwind. At these moments, wading through innumerable options is unpleasant, and having a way to cut that down is a great thing.
The benefit of understanding the Paradox of Choice is that you can recognize the situation, and react accordingly. Whether employing psychological techniques to ease your selection, or enlisting tools to help take the choice out of your hands, it’s much easier to deal with when you’ve got a strategy for the job. Happy watching!