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Consumption: Broadening Media Access in the Streaming Era

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As devices for consuming visual and auditory stimuli have become smaller, sharper and faster, methods of cataloging, storing, and accessing audiovisual media have followed suit. Now to the average user, no additional apparatus is required for consuming any movie, TV or song show available: we simply tap on our phones and laptops and remotes and entertainment is beamed in like magic. 

The present era of high-quality digital storage and streaming has brought the most readily accessible consumption of audiovisual entertainment in human history. With screens in every pocket and bluetooth speakers in many backpacks, it seems the world should see a radical democratization of ideas, education and potentially even power. But because of the way streaming corporations have developed, access to the consumption of media is actually limited, and that access can be indefinitely taken away on a financial whim when a provider doesn’t renew their license to a title. Streaming consumers are also threatened with permanent loss of access to a service’s catalog if a streaming company folds, likely sending its catalog into limbo. That’s just part of the deal when you don’t own any of the content you consume.

Many prominent streaming businesses are now or were once losing money but floating along on outside investments. What if there was a consistently funded service that compiled every song, movie, TV show etc. into one place, meticulously cataloged and organized so that media could be sorted by type, duration, size, creator(s), chronologically, alphabetically, regionally and in any other manner you could imagine? Creating an accessible library with a wide ranging catalog of media that keeps growing could radically impact social consciousness on a broad scale. It would be an incredible aid for educators, researchers and artists, and could perhaps even improve social mobility for households with lower incomes, nourishing talented minds crucial to the improvement of our future that would have been otherwise marginalized.

Who, or what, could possibly achieve this feat of creating universal access to a broad cultural library? I can only see three possible fits: national governments, huge corporations, and super rich people. This undertaking would be massively expensive. Employees would be needed to negotiate licensing deals, hunt down media that the catalog lacks, input media into the system with its information, help users out etc.

The practical questions are plentiful. The consumption of media through the Infinite Library could vary greatly depending on its creator and owner. A huge corporation like Google would require users to have a linked account with their Gmail address for example. A national government like the United States could require way more information, including your social security number. A philanthropic super-billionaire could perhaps allow total anonymity. But the one uniting requirement for consumers in all three situations is that the service must be affordable. Without accessibility, the project loses a major part of its purpose.

If the U.S. government created an Infinite Library, they could allocate federal funding while also charging a monthly subscription based on a user’s income or net worth. There would also be value in the jobs created by the project. A mega-wealthy philanthropist could make the library totally free, since they have to be okay with—even enthused about—losing money. Because there’s no way to provide a service like this and make a profit, meaning only entities with absurd amounts of money can even entertain the idea.

Provided affordability requirements are met, the users of the Infinite Library should be from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds: otherwise the consumer base will just reflect or even reinforce current inequities. Anyone with access to the internet should be able to use the library merely by typing in a URL. But not everyone has access to the internet user demographics will still skew wealthy and white both in the U.S. and internationally. The way to counter this would be distributing internet access to those who don’t have it, which domestically would undoubtedly raise political debates about the status of undocumented immigrants, minors, felons and other groups with contested citizenship rights.

Certain people would still use the Infinite Library more often than others. I imagine teachers would use it to instruct students, authors to prompt inspiration, cooks to learn new culinary techniques. I don’t think everybody would abandon their TikTok feeds to go watch yesterday’s TikToks in the Infinite Library. The trends and culture are happening on TikTok right now. The library would simply document, preserve and disseminate. But it would be an immense boon to humanity with the potential to change the world. 

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