Collecting in a Digital World

27 April 2015

Let’s be honest. For the layman, there isn’t a real need to own media anymore. No matter what it is, the Internet makes it easy to find and easy to get no matter where or when you are. We’re lazy—someone else already did it and most of the time we’re willing to pay them instead of devoting our own time to finding everything we want. Despite that, some of us still choose to maintain our own collections. These media libraries often amount to dozens upon dozens of terabytes of media on an array of drives somewhere, that we stream with Plex or Emby or a similar solution. It eventually amounts to more media than one person is actually able to realistically consume. To add a little perspective, a collection in the low end of that consisting only of HD video would take over a year to watch in its entirety if played 24/7/365 with no breaks.

Looking generally at why humans collect anything digital or physical, collecting (not hoarding) is associated with positive emotions. There is a satisfaction associated with searching and finding things to add to a collection and connecting with like-minded people. This works the same way with collecting media, although amassing what often will eventually become a large amount of digital data brings about some interesting challenges. For the problem solvers in us, it couldn’t be better.

One of the largest challenges is figuring out the logistics of finding, downloading, and organizing everything. Once you own more data than can fit on one or two hard drives, there are better ways of storing things than just throwing it on a hard drive and calling it a day. There are considerations for what filesystem to use, what RAID level to use, whether to rent cloud space or buy a server, and how to back it up. If we’re downloading ongoing TV shows, there’s the added problem of how to keep our collection up to date with the latest episodes.

There are also people who simply prefer to own their media rather than to stream it from someone else. While the world of Netflix and Amazon Prime make it more convenient than ever to simply not own media, online services keep tabs on what you watch and the availability of media depends entirely on them. It also stays available even if the Internet isn’t, which occasionally happens with enough bad weather—often the times you want your media the most.

Owning media has the added benefit of allowing you to choose the quality of what’s in your collection. While for the layman HD is usually enough, the compression that some services use isn’t always totally up to par. With a higher end system it can be really noticeable and at times extremely annoying (looking at you, Netflix). If nothing else, owning things is just satisfying, even if it is just a server full of a dozen terabytes of media.

So why do we keep amassing media that we don’t necessarily need? It opens up a world of new toys and new challenges that are hard to find somewhere else. We have the option to store and consume our media however we want and in whatever quality we want, no matter what the Internet thinks. Although we may have so much media we never watch a movie twice (or sometimes, at all), we get just as much fun figuring out the best way to store that movie as we do from sitting down to watch it.

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