We can do practically anything with phones, tablets, and computers nowadays, so it’s not surprising that things have started to get complicated. We can stream movies, music, and TV shows from the digital ether. We can communicate with friends in innumerable ways, from Facebook and Snapchat to Skype and iMessage. The internet gives us more options to send and receive media and information than ever before, but it has also made everything incredibly complicated.
Here are some of the things the internet has turned into a pain in the ass.
Let’s say you want to watch Ghostbusters. Before streaming video became widely available, watching Ghostbusters was pretty straightforward: You’d head over to your local video store (pour one out for Blockbuster) and rent it. Simple enough. Now how do you watch Ghostbusters in the current age of streaming? Well, let’s just say it’s not so simple.
You could hop into each of your streaming services to see if they offer the movie. You’ll be disappointed when, after checking Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Crackle, and any of your other subscription services, you find that none of them have Ghostbusters in their current catalog. If you’re a little more tech savvy, you might know to check a third-party service like Canistream.it, or the Yahoo Video Guide app.
Either way, once you realize the movie you want to watch isn’t available on a streaming service, you can buy the Blu-ray or digital copy, or rent it digitally. If you decide on a digital version, you now have a cornucopia of options, ranging from iTunes to Google Play to YouTube. But if you rent it digitally, how are you going to display the movie onto your TV screen?
It’s exhausting. All you want to do is watch a movie, but now you have to put in the legwork and make a dozen little choices along the way. In some ways, the internet has made watching movies more convenient, but in most others, it’s hopelessly more complicated.
Raise your hand if you keep a random messaging app on your phone just because you have one friend who won’t use any other. Even if you don’t, there’s a good chance you juggle multiple messaging apps, from Facebook Messenger and iMessages to Line, WhatsApp, and Snapchat.
Who can keep up with them all? Perhaps more importantly, why do we even bother? The apps have different user interfaces, which vary wildly in terms of complexity. Some of them let you send old-fashioned text messages to other people outside of the service. Others let you send voice memos or switch over to video chat on the fly. Let’s not even touch on things like stickers and apps within apps. Mastering all the features in just one messaging app can be a headache, let alone many. And then remembering which app you used to have the one conversation where your friend said the one thing you’re trying really hard to find …
Maybe it’s time to go back to handwriting letters.
The world of streaming music is divided in many of the same ways video is. While you’re much more likely to find a given track on Spotify than you are to find a specific TV show on Netflix, many fractures still exist for music streamers.
For instance, when looking for a service to subscribe to, how do you weigh the service’s unique features, like the Beat One radio station on Apple Music against Spotify’s personalized playlist Discover Weekly? And what about the big-name artists who withhold their albums from all, or all but one, of the services? Should you buy the new Taylor Swift album in iTunes, or wait for it to appear on your service of choice?
Beyond that, you also have to decide which devices you want to play your music on before subscribing. Apple Music is only available on Apple devices. Do you have enough of those around, and are they in the places you typically listen to music? Your phone has a Spotify app, but your smart TV might not.
Even something as seemingly simple as listening to music has become a teetering tower of choices. The worst part: There’s no reason to think it’ll get better anytime soon.
First there was Friendster, and then came MySpace. Now that those and many others have been sent to the Graveyard of Deserted Networks, we have a fairly entrenched set of social networks widely used today. Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter are some of the biggest names. Then there are hybrid social/messaging platforms like Snapchat, and business-focused ones like LinkedIn, and hobby-based ones like Pinterest. As if we didn’t have enough logins and passwords to remember, or enough digital pathways to communicate with our fellow human beings.
Will there ever come a point when we look at this digital detritus and say, “Enough is enough”? Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the direction we’re going. If ever there was “One Social Network to Rule Them All,” it’s Facebook, and clearly that’s not enough. Our tastes change over time, and one network can’t be everything to everyone. There’s always room for niches big and small.
Our digital lives are fragmented in all of these ways and dozens more. Thanks to competing business interests and the differing needs of users, it’s a problem that’s unlikely to be solved anytime soon, if ever. Probably the best thing we can do is to embrace the chaos, seek out the platforms that best suit our needs, and try not to go crazy in the face of a hurricane of choices. Good luck. In this digital era at least, you’ll need it.