In this four-part series, we’ve looked at how the internet has affected the way we experience and enjoy entertainment like books, films and shows. Technological advances in the last few decades have transformed the way we interact with the world. But what does it meant for traditional media?
Most people have probably visited a public library at one time or another. I remember being amazed, as a child, that so much knowledge could be stored in one place, and that I could look at any of it if I liked. Given time, I was even allowed to look at all of it, if that was what I wanted to do.
These days, with the internet available in almost every home and even on almost every phone, it’s easy to take the wealth of information and entertainment at our fingertips for granted. It’s always there, after all, waiting for us to get bored and look it up. Games of “Ooh, What Have I Seen Him In?” – a traditional pastime in my family home – can be over in seconds through the simple application of Wikipedia or IMDb; statistics on the news can be cross-referenced in a matter of minutes; pub quiz hosts have to keep a beady eye out for sneaky Googling. Boredom can instantly be banished if one only takes the time to go onto a TV on-demand site, and you can have a multitude of books transferred to an eReader any time you fancy a good read.
The legality of assorted online archives varies; there are sites which offer illegal links to watch films online, but there are also completely legitimate archives like BBC iPlayer, ITVplayer and the like, where you can stream your favourite shows guilt-free. For films, there are services such as LoveFilm and Netflix, which charge a small fee in exchange for effectively renting you what you want to watch. This can come in very handy if you miss your favourite show on the telly, or have no more room for DVDs on your shelf.
Some archives only offer content for a limited time – BBC iPlayer, for example, tends to keep a programme online for just 7 days so you can catch up on what you’ve recently missed – but others seem determined to make everything they’ve ever shown available forever. The most famous example in the UK, where I hail from, is 4od, the on-demand site of Channel 4 and its associated channels. “Time travel? Don’t need it!” proclaims their advert, before explaining that they hold a vast range of shows online, from those that aired an hour ago to those that haven’t been broadcast since before the internet was even invented. As a result, their output is thought to be the least pirated around – after all, why steal what you’re being legally given?
Some series aren’t available on DVD; some never will be. It is a sad fact of life that sometimes things don’t make it to a hard-copy format we can have and own for ourselves, like the books that only ever come out on Kindle. Some are simply huge, and collecting all the DVDs would require you to build an extension on your house. Still others are obscure and might turn up in one video rental shop three towns over once in a blue moon, but are otherwise impossible to come by in the part of the world you’re in. So it’s really convenient to be able to find them online without infringing on anyone’s intellectual property rights.
Speaking of the part of the world you’re in – some archives use region blocking to control who can watch the things they put online. For example, I can’t watch NBC’s official videos and clips online, and I’m told that those outside the UK can’t use BBC iPlayer. This is a shame, because I know I’m missing out on some fantastic television. I can see the reasoning behind it – after all, limiting the audience that can freely access your output online means you can try for the TV ratings in all those other countries – but it does seem sad that I can’t just watch Community and my friends overseas can’t watch Lip Service – especially when the people in the relevant countries don’t pay to watch it on the TV any more than they would to watch it online.
Archives aren’t just for TV shows and published books, though. YouTube represents a huge archive of videos people have put together for fun and share freely. There are also huge fanfiction archives, which we touched on earlier in the series, allowing our favourite stories to be stored and indexed. The vast archives on the internet make it far easier to find things, to check facts, and indeed to follow through a whole series without getting muddled. And anyone in possession of a long-running Tumblr blog – or any other kind of blog, or even a fanfiction or art collection stored online – can tell you that archives can provide a great opportunity for reflection and growth. Look back at what you were saying, liking and reblogging six months ago. Seeing it with today’s eyes, you’ll discover things about the way you’ve changed as a person, and you’ll rediscover things you never meant to forget.
Unlike a physical library, the internet doesn’t seem to be in any immediate danger of running out of space, so everything we want to store and everything we might ever want to know could, potentially, be kept forever. That’s kind of a scary thought, but it’s also really cool.
The internet certainly didn’t invent archives and it will probably never completely replace more physical forms of storage for some purposes – books, for example, are likely to be found in libraries for years to come, and I’m sure we’re all going to be hoarding DVDs and Blu-rays for a while yet – but it has revolutionised how – and how often – we access and handle information and media.
I’ve waffled on about the way the internet has shaken up the fandom experience for several issues now, and it’s time to wrap it up. So what have I found?
Well, the watchalong is a great example of how the internet is removing the obstacle that distance has always posed in our fannish endeavours. Your next door neighbour doesn’t need to watch the same shows as you do, because you can just get online and share your feels.
Social media has made it easier to share the things you like, without worrying about them running away or disappearing. It’s also made it easier to share with more people at once – you don’t have to go door-to-door with anything you want to tell people about, you can just throw a Facebook status online or update Twitter. Plus, increasingly, there’s the chance to really connect with the people who make the fantastic things you’re so excited about.
The internet’s ability to archive things means you never have to lose anything, ever – from that first ever fanfic you posted, and the associated reviews, to that episode of that show that’s never going to be on DVD ever but was shown on Channel 4 in the 80s. It makes it easier to find what you want, and it makes it easier to find other things you didn’t even know you wanted until you got to them. Then you can share them to your heart’s content, with all those people you’re hanging out with via modem.
The internet certainly didn’t start this fandom craziness, but it’s made it easier. It’s brought everything and everyone that little bit closer. Of course, when you’re in a crowd, it’s important to keep your valuables safe – personal information, that is, and login details – and your wits about you, but this crowd is a great place to be, a marketplace bustling with people who like things that you like. In a world where apathy seems to reign supreme, the internet has made it way easier to find other people prepared to get excited and really enjoy things.
Embrace it. Enjoy it. Watch it continue to change. Because for all that the internet’s already affected fandom, you can bet your life it’s going to keep doing it. After all, it’s already working the other way – fandom is affecting the internet. Let’s see where the cycle takes us (who knows, maybe it’ll be Asgard).
That’s the end of our series on The Internet and Entertainment – we hope you’ve enjoyed it. You can find the whole series under the ‘Find A Series’ menu up there on the main toolbar. Next issue, we’ll be starting a new series on a new topic. Let us know if there’s anything in particular you’d like us to look at in depth!