The Browsers


Dawson’s Creek (Columbia TriStar Television)

From the Walrus:

There’s something to be said for the Blockbuster video store of my youth. It was what we had in the suburbs, and it suited the way my mind worked. I liked encountering movies as physical objects dispersed throughout a large room, arranged down walls (where the new releases went) and along shelves (where the older stuff tarried). I suspect the image of walking through such a room will one day amuse my children, four and two.

Still, I miss browsing those chunky, foxed VHS cases and, I suppose, their leaner DVD heirs. You could wander and let your eyes fall where they fell. The supply of any given video was finite, which meant you sometimes had to figure out a Plan B. You had to swivel, double back, hunker down, tilt your head. You could be aimless in a Wordsworthian way. You could meander. This aisle, maybe, or that one. Couples paralyzed by indecision stood around like Vladimirs and Estragons.

The aisles of the Blockbuster were themed, though less aggressively, less knowingly than the rows that march relentlessly down the Netflix home page. A particular shelf didn’t remember if you had selected one of its videos before and thus didn’t try to push a similar title at you. The real-world tiles didn’t proactively rearrange themselves in anticipation of your unique wants. In lieu of tailored algorithms, there were a few shelves given over to staff recommendations. These challenged you to ignore the new-release walls, decorated by market forces, and defer to the taste of an authority (or, at least, a part-time employee majoring in film).

“Life in the Stacks: A Love Letter to Browsing”, Jason Guriel, The Walrus

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