At the southwest corner of Lincoln and Ocean Park in Santa Monica, there stands a blue and yellow building every bit as eye-catching as it is downright ugly, a singular fortress battered but not fallen by the onslaught of technology: Blockbuster.
Say its name these days, and likely it will strike a fond, perhaps nostalgic, yet somewhat pathetic note. Think back to the time when it was an emblematic staple of consumer culture, and you don’t have to think back very far at all.
Even eight years ago, when I last resided temporarily in Santa Monica for work, the days were numbered for video rental stores. Take the “store” factor out of the equation with a business model like that of Netflix, Blockbuster's upstart competitor, and the specter of obsolescence loomed large on the horizon.
But there it still stands--this Blockbuster, at least, the one back home in Brooklyn having gone under in the early days of the online takeover.
Back when storefronts were the only model conceivable, I maintained a healthy distaste for Blockbuster's gambit to put its small, independent competitors out of business. But these days, when the notion of driving somewhere to rent a movie strikes an entire generation as being as antiquated as riding in a horse-and-buggy to the general store, the blue-and-yellow stronghold at Lincoln and Ocean Park is a pleasantly nostalgic sight.
Stubborn as I am, I actually walked there recently to renew my membership and rent a movie. Walking anywhere in L.A. is one thing; but doing so to rent a movie the old-fashioned way is something to write home about.
Not that I did write home about it—what with the wonders of Skype to check in visually with my wife and kids while I’m away. It's been around for a while, but I only just adopted Skype on my current stint in L.A. While it is good to to see my family, and they me, I can’t help but fear the takeover of this piece of technology, too.
Have you ever tried to discipline your children via Skype from 3,000 miles away?
It occurred to me that I haven’t written them a single weekly postcard or letter.
I can only imagine how much more meaningful such a collected correspondence would be to my children down the road, when they would have an actual relic of this time apart rather than the vaguely recollected ephemera of Skype conversations.
In a recent interview with Krista Tippett of the radio program, “On Being” (formerly “Speaking of Faith”), Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and the Self, described making a photo album for her daughter before she left for college. Turkle was struck by the realization that the printed archives were plentiful for the first fourteen years of her daughter’s life, but after that came a great blank space where everything existed only in digital form.
My own oldest daughter, who just shy of seven claims she’ll have her own cellphone at ten, was stumped the other day to guess how old I was when I got my first one. “Ten?” she answered, doubtfully if hopefully. “Thirty,” I replied.
She fell dead quiet. It didn’t compute.
Telling her that over Skype did leave an impression. But I imagine that showing it to her in the form of a handwritten letter, one in which I describe what it felt like to walk to Blockbuster on a California night in the spring of 2011 when I missed her so much, would probably be far more memorable.
Not that my inner Luddite must always take the upper hand in parenting. But time itself feels like an actual commodity these days, too quickly bartered away. I am loath to simply watch my kids get blown about without a rudder by the winds of change.
All the more so in light of the accelerating pace of change—a phenomenon currently gaining attention thanks in part to the futurist Ray Kurzweil. As a leading spokesman for The Singularity, a purported point in time in the near future (roughly 2030-40-ish) when artificial intelligence will exponentially exceed its human counterpart and subsume the species into a mechanized hybrid of man and machine, Kurzweil takes upwards of 250 supplements a day and undergoes routine blood transfusions in the hopes that he lives long enough to be transformed and live forever.
I, too, want to live forever, but without the supplements or artificial intelligence, yet with a blood transfusion of an altogether different kind. No doubt Kurzweil would probably peg me as cannon fodder in the evolutionary struggle ahead of us.
So be it. I’ll go down proud, shouting, “Long live Blockbuster!”