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Apple, please, I am consumed with subscription fatigue

How much a month would you pay? How much can you pay before sinking into an abyss?

Sarah Tew/CNET

After Apple's services-focused event this week, I felt a wave of sadness. It continued when I went home, and during dinner, and as I tucked my kids into bed. Later, I sat on the sofa as my wife talked to me about how much we spend, and how we need to reconsider our budget. I was steeped in melancholy. What was going on?

The subscriptions. It was the subscriptions.

Apple's whole event was about subscription content. Services you can have, for just the cost of... well, we don't know how much all of them will cost yet.

I was already thinking about cutting back on my subscriptions. And so was my wife. She'd started looking at our spending, and all the things that we've been paying for that we've not been thinking about. The gym membership we don't use. Apple Music. All three streaming services we have. (Do we need Amazon, Hulu and Netflix? I don't want to get rid of them.)

I pick up my phone. I scroll and scroll, as if it will calm me down. I see an advertisement for the Criterion Channel. I love Criterion! Another channel. Wait, how many can I pay for? I'm drowning in them. The night of the Apple event, my wife and I spent hours poring through credit card statements, and I felt my stomach turn.

I have subscription fatigue. Subscription anxiety. Subscription dread.

It's a feeling that's started overwhelming me slowly over time, little by little, turning from mild concern to waves of depression. And Monday was my breaking point. I'm looking over the monthly bills I don't want to acknowledge, the costs of living I've slowly piled on, and it makes me want to cry.


Just $9.99 more.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

Apple's betting everything now on subscriptions. Or not everything, certainly, but Apple would like us to pay up. Just a little bit more. Here, there. Apple News Plus is $10 a month. We don't know about Apple Arcade for gaming, or Apple TV Plus for shows. Then there's iCloud. Apple Music. The cost of the devices themselves. Phone service.

Suddenly, or more than ever, we're subscribing to everything. We rent the world we live in. Micropayments everywhere.

Apple doesn't seem to acknowledge this subscription overload. And in the middle of it all, dangled like a magic carrot on a string: a credit card, of all things, promising better budgeting.

I've hit peak subscription fatigue. My wife has, I have, and many people I know have. We're heading toward a future where we rent everything, and it's unsustainable. Right now I'm staring that daily rent in the face and realizing I don't think I can hurdle it. It's a disturbing feeling. It's a sad feeling. It's something like the dystopian nightmares of George Saunders and Gary Shteyngart rolled into reality. Super Sad True Subscription Story.

With all the shows, the music, the games, the magazines, the endless apps, there's a limit. Everyone has budgets, and financial concerns, and ceilings. Maybe I can keep better track of my subscriptions with my Apple Card. But this glowing world of happy things is a rentable luxury, and Apple's not giving any clear sense of how to make any of it work with your wallet.

It's not just Apple, though. It's everything. The shows I like come and go from services I borrow. The albums I listen to are held in a cloud, and it's completely transient. If I stop paying, I have nothing. The games on online services, in some cases, are gone when I'm done. Subscriptions to Office 365, or Adobe Creative Cloud. Subscriptions to a world we're only buying time from.

What do we have? Is ownership a myth in the first place? Do we just turn to dust in the end? Maybe it's all temporary. But subscriptions are a slow sad death to me, a promise of a world I can't keep forever.

And I don't want to add any more.