If you live outside the BOS-WASH population belt, you may retain the quaint idea that Manhattan is where all the most obnoxious people in New York, if not the world, live. But a funny thing happened while I was in Tokyo: all the annoying people apparently moved to Brooklyn.
The converse is not true, mind you. I know plenty of non-annoying people who live in Brooklyn. Some of my best friends live in Brooklyn. To paraphrase Tina Fey, I can see Brooklyn from my house. (Actually, it’s Queens, and I can see it across the river from 49th and 1st when I walk down to the bodega, but the idea’s the same.) Anyway, lately when I’ve come across some first-person feature article bleating about modern life and started to think, Hmmm…this character’s really annoying, the next sentence invariably says something about “my neighborhood in Brooklyn” or “down the street from me in Cobble Hill.”
The most recent example is this, in which the author becomes the millionth city-dweller to lament how technology is draining the human interaction from daily life. Yeah, I know—what was I expecting from reading the “Consumerism” section on Salon, anyway? I live in hope.
So, you know, Blockbuster’s about to go out of business, and now we all get our movies from Netflix, and there’s “community” instead of community. It’s the perfect chance to contrast one’s own depth and sincerity with the soullessness of his surroundings!
There used to be four or five Blockbusters within walking distance of my apartment in Brooklyn. [Ruh-roh! – SRK] Now there’s one, and I keep thinking it’s closed until I peer in for a second and spot that one clerk slouched behind the counter. Odds are he’s either talking on his cell phone or reading Vibe.
The electronic parameters of Internet relationships mean that you get to enjoy the benefits of other peoples’ enthusiasm without the accompanying melodrama. If you were ever part of one of the circles I’ve described, you found yourself wondering, at one point or another, “Why am I friends with this person? We have nothing in common but movies, and if it weren’t for that, I’d cross the street if I saw him.” Internet friendship means you don’t have to follow up an intoxicating geek-fest argument about Stanley Kubrick vs. Martin Scorsese with a two hour discussion of your friend’s latest workplace drama, or her recent breakup with that guy who always wore a hoodie and kept forgetting her birthday.
The rub, of course, is that any friendship that satisfies the first part of that description and not the second isn’t a real friendship. Which brings me to the one part of Blockbuster’s slow fadeout that is worth lamenting: the sense that the human touch, or what’s left of it, is being lost. Mind you, I’m not talking about Blockbuster’s idea of the human touch, because the chain never had one.
I’m talking about the pre-Internet experience of daily life, which was more immediate, more truly interactive: in a word, real.
Sigh. People have been saying crap like this since I was a teenager. First, the Walkman was insulating us from enriching conversations with people we encountered randomly on the street. Then email was making our communications vulgar and superficial. Then cell phones were forcing us to be available to all callers at all hours. Amazon and iTunes killed the mind-broadening experience of stumbling into obscure stuff at hipster-approved independent book and record stores ages ago. Now its Netflix. We get movies by pointing and clicking, whereas Blockbuster used to be where we laughed, cried, argued, and began and ended relationships.
I’m not kidding:
Bland and aloof as it was, Blockbuster was a part of that — and for certain types of people, it was a big part. There was nothing special about Blockbuster as a business, but special moments did happen there, simply by virtue of the fact that the stores were everywhere, and they stocked a lot of movies, and people who wanted to see movies went there regularly, sometimes alone but more often in the company of relatives or friends.
I had some involved, sometimes pivotal conversations while loitering in the aisles at the Blockbuster near my school or apartment or workplace, including one in which my best friend helped me talk myself into breaking up with a girl I was dating who was beautiful and charming but not remotely interested in any film released before the year of her birth. She fell asleep during “Dr. Strangelove.”
“You’ve got to break up with her, Matt,” my friend advised me. “Hey, have you seen the Albert Brooks movie ‘Real Life’? Seriously. It’s one of the funniest films ever made.”
That kind of thing never happens when you’re browsing Netflix.
Of course, some of us like being able to get to a copy of The Eyes of Laura Mars without having to squeeze past some schmo bleating, “She’s got a rockin’ body, dude, but she just doesn’t get how much Bond means to me!” at his buddy, however precious the shared moment may be to the two of them. I find that with Netflix (and Amazon and iTunes and Fresh Direct), I get to spend just as much (if not more) time with my friends while spending less time hearing TMI from people behind me in checkout lines about, like, their bunion surgery. There are fewer places to browse among physical stock, but they’re not hard to find. The Barnes & Noble near my office on Union Square is almost always packed. And that’s not even considering the people who live so far from Brooklyn that the nearest Blockbuster was always far away, even at the height of its success. For them, Netflix must seem little short of a miracle.
Seitz’s complaint is especially odd since, in that first part cited above, he acknowledges that in his pre-Internet life, he didn’t have genuine friendships with all his movie buddies, anyway. Is the idea that palling around in person made that more palatable or (perhaps more likely) disguised it better than just chatting online about subjects of confirmed mutual interest? I’ve never understood why people who find that technology makes their lives impersonal don’t just find ways to avoid using it. I regularly stop reading Facebook or (have you noticed?) posting here when I consider what’s going on offline more important. I try to respond to non-urgent telephone calls and messages in a timely fashion, but if I’m busy, I let them wait. When I feel like reading, I shut off the TV. If I felt like browsing through videos with a friend, I suppose I’d ask a friend to go to the video section of the bookstore with me. I don’t consider any of this all that hard.
I assume Eric doesn’t either. He posts about hating videos contrived to prove a polemical point, but in his view, “I am not obligated in any way to create or watch videos.” No, indeed, although acknowledging that does mean forgoing the opportunity to get all windy about how one is too soulful for this impersonal age.