CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Culture

In an age of cheap imports, restraint is a virtue

The onset of cheap imports and digital distribution has provided collectors with more options than ever. But it gives rise to another problem: content you'll never consume.

I should have seen it coming. After all, the iPod provided over a decade of warning.

But then, I've never been the portable music player type. I once had an iPod Shuffle given to me, which I immediately passed on to my sister, pristine in box. I looked upon those who really did have a million songs in their pocket with incredulity. Who had the time to listen to that much music?

Oh, how foolish I was.

Deep inside of me, a pack rat waited to be unleashed. All that it required was a strong Australian dollar, digital distribution to expand into other segments, cheap terabyte hard drives, a shift in mindset from single episodes to complete collections and for international shipping to be reasonable. In 2001, this absolute excess seemed not only impossible, but unreasonable.

A wild Steam appears! (Credit: Valve, troll Gabe)

Today, I have hundreds of PC games, thanks to Steam and supporting whatever Indie Bundle comes out this week. A pile of unplayed console games leers at me from the corner, courtesy of Zavvi and others. Books I bought from Book Depository and Amazon collect dust, waiting for the moment when I have time to sit down with them. I still haven't twigged to building a mountainous music collection, but I'm starting to buy Blu-rays, thanks to DVD.co.uk. OzBargain ensures that I never miss a deal, and often provides hints on how to get around geo-restrictions. I could take a year off, and still not get through the entertainment stockpile. In the face of an international bargain, it seems I have the backbone of a pulverised jellyfish.

It doesn't help when it's digital, either. It's hard to notice the detritus building up when there's no physical manifestation; when things get tight, you just add another hard drive.

It's the epitome of a first-world problem. Too much content, and not enough time.

Yet, I know I'm not alone in this collector's conundrum; those who once rationed due to high local prices now binge on cheap, imported goods, as if it somehow makes up for a time of relative austerity. There's still a sense of disbelief that the Australian dollar can stay high, too, resulting in a desperate grab, in case tomorrow it all comes crashing down.

In the meantime, the content world doesn't stop. Each time I swear to solemnly never buy anything else on Steam, something else drops to five dollars that used to be $70, and my credit card twitches. Thank heavens I don't yet own an e-reader.

It is, then, with a certain rueful acceptance that I realise there's only one likely way to kill the habit: the gluttonous excess of subscription services. Infinite content on demand, as long as I keep paying the monthly bill. Netflix, Spotify, Gametap and the like, but supersized, and available globally. We're not there yet, but it surely can't be too far off.

The logic is simple enough: while I have myself fooled that the couple of hundred games I currently own is a surmountable obstacle (it's not; based on current rate of completion, it'll easily take a decade — heaven knows when I'll get to the books), when faced with a catalogue of millions, I'm quite sure my brain will recoil in horror at the concept of infinity and collapse in on itself.

Finally, mercifully, I'll start only selecting the things I want to engage in at that particular time, rather than jonesing for the dopamine rush of securing an international bargain, bypassing the Australia tax and building the collection. For once, the paralysis of too much choice will actually offer freedom.

Either that, or I'll walk away completely. But that would be sensible.