The Joy of Broadcast Media Vs. The Paradox of Choice

The rise of internet streaming services has been a revolutionary turning point in the media world. No more content would be pumped into homes in a one-way fashion, delivered by large conglomerates and government-run organizations. Instead, individuals would be free to search for content tailored to their own desires based on All You Can Watch.

This has led to a paradigm shift in the way we consume media. However, it also led to immense frustration with the overwhelming amount of content on offer. Let’s look at why, and some creative ways around the problem.

The paradox of choice

Many find the masses of content on streaming services to be overwhelming. Credit: screenshot by author

Traditionally, when it came to media, there were two main streams of broadcast: broadcast and home media. You can listen to the radio, flick through the television, or spin a record or select a movie to watch on tape. If none of these options were enough, one could head to the local video store to rent something more appealing.

Basically, it was a time when choices were limited. There were a handful of TV channels to choose from, and if there was nothing good you could go so far as to find something watchable on tape or go without. Many will remember afternoons and evenings spent watching reruns or a Friday night movie that had been shown a million times before. Some shows have gone so far as to become legends for their seemingly endless replaying, of The simpsons at MASH POTATOES.

However, as the Internet grew, the game began to change. Torrent websites and streaming services have sprung up, offering the sum total of the world’s cultural output for free, or at nominal cost to those opposed to piracy. Suddenly, when it came to choosing a movie to watch, one was no longer limited to the five or so films playing at the local cinema, or what was left on the shelves of the local video rental. Instead, virtually any movie since the format was invented could be yours to watch at any time.

With so many options on the table, many of us find it hard to choose. It’s an idea popularly known as the paradox of choice, a term popularized by American psychologist Barry Schwartz in 2004. When our options are limited to a select few, choice is easy. They can quickly be compared and categorized and an ideal option chosen.

Add thousands of choices to the pile, and the work escalates in complexity to the point of overwhelming. With so many different choices to contrast and compare, finding the mythical Good choice becomes virtually impossible.

Anyone who’s ever hopped on a streaming service looking for something to watch will know the paralyzing feeling. Rows of colorful icons pass in front of barely recognizable scrolling titles. Each scroll looks for a simple and remarkable option, but only reveals more choices. The pressure mounts with the knowledge that making the wrong choice is surely inexcusable when virtually everything that’s been filmed is an option. Whether you’re looking for a movie to watch or just want to see an old episode of Cheers out of the hundreds that have been made, the volume of choice is overwhelming.

Respite is at hand

Builds like the Simpsons TV replicate the experience of broadcast television, where your only choice is to watch what’s happening or not. credit: article HAD

There are of course workarounds. One such method is to remember that picking a movie isn’t a life-and-death choice (usually), and just finding something good enough will usually be enough. The world of streaming also has a side benefit in that there is no need for commitment. If the movie is horribly bad, you can always choose another one.

If this is a more regular problem you’re dealing with, however, you might consider giving up the choice altogether. Many pirates have longed for the days when they could turn on the television and watch an episode of their favorite show, without having to choose from the entire catalog themselves. Builds like the Simpsons TV pile a golden collection of episodes onto a Raspberry Pi. Continuous random play, similar to the 24-hour marathons popular on cable TV at the time. For an even more authentic build, you can use an RF modulator to pump out the video as if it’s coming to its own TV channel.

Date Night Movies lets two people each enter a movie choice and presents a series of in-between options. Credit: screenshot

Services also exist to help you choose which movies to watch. Sites like Random Movie Picker and PickAMovieForMe ask a series of simple questions before making suggestions on what to watch. Netflix Roulette does much the same thing, focusing on the titles actually available on that specific service. Meanwhile, Date Night Movies takes two suggestions and offers a series of titles that meet somewhere in the middle.

Overall, there’s some value to be had in these systems that take entire movie catalogs and boil them down to a handful of options to choose from. Often when we choose something to watch, we seek to relax and unwind. At times like this, browsing through countless options is unpleasant, and having a way to narrow that down is a good thing.

The advantage of understanding the paradox of choice is that you can recognize the situation and react accordingly. Whether it’s using psychological techniques to aid your selection, or employing tools to help you make the choice, it’s much easier to manage when you have a strategy for the job. Good viewing!

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