So the Web Summit has been and gone. I hope you heard about it - how positive it is for Dublin, for Ireland, for entrepreneurs and local business. How the Taoiseach was there and rang the NASDAQ bell, how Eva Longoria ate her own body-weight in Tayto, how the Internet of things is the coming trend, how some businesses pivot and how others disrupt. Fair play to Paddy Cosgrave and the team - they’ve created an event that grows and grows and having been involved from early on I applaud the monster they’ve created. It’s a good monster, but it’s all based on another monster I am having growing worries about - the Internet itself. Sure, the RDS was packed with 20,000 people who want to use the web to enhance our lives, make our lives easier, while enriching themselves. That’s good, right?
Meanwhile across town, a Dublin Institution shut its doors. Since 1992 Laser DVD had been Mecca for a legion of Dublin Movie Buffs. A proper, honest-to-God Video Library like you’d see in New York or London, where you could find movies by Director, Documentaries, Foreign Films and Boxed Sets. I used it daily for years, exploring Russian Cinema, Woody Allen, the Nouvelle Vague and the Kitchen Sink. It’s where I first realized Sidney Lumet should be up there with Scorsese, and figured out that Paul Newman’s ‘The Drowning Pool’ is the 1970’s great lost conspiracy thriller. On the other hand I watched ‘Blow-Up’ and wondered what the fuss was about. But it didn’t matter – I had a whole world at my fingertips, around the corner. And it’s gone now, because of…the Internet.
Netflix. Amazon. Blah Blah Blah. We all know the reasons. The futurists can bang on as much as they like that ‘this is the way things are going’ and they’d be right. But I don’t want a world where ‘browsing’ involves me reading badly-written ‘reviews’, buying and waiting days for a ‘drone’ to land with my shrink-wrapped purchase (for Drone read ‘future robotic enemy of humanity’). Or streaming stuff from the extremely narrow, populist range of choices on my ‘provider’ and watching it in bed like the slobs in ‘Wall-E’. I want to happen upon things, old things, strange things that take me out of myself, that every single human being isn’t watching at the same time. And I want to find these things standing up, walking around and breathing. Fully-clothed.
I’ll miss the grumpy nerds who ran Laser like David Pearse’s character in ‘Trivia’ and would look at you with scorn as you rented some dreadful new violent thriller, instead of the subtitled movie they knew was better. I’ll miss the feeling of camaraderie with other customers when you knew that not everybody was going out that night, they were going to stay in and watch films and eat cheese. I’ll miss the aimless wandering and potential for surprise.
I wonder if Quentin Tarantino would be who he is today without the years of human interaction and education working in a Video Library. I wonder if all this home-based choice doesn’t just remove a layer of engagement with a snarky expert who may enhance your viewing experience. Once in Laser the guy behind the counter told me ‘Jack Reacher’ wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before. I like that. I could read that on Amazon on my couch, sure – but having a human say it to me made all the difference. At least the Web Summit moved thousands of people around physically, bringing them to pubs, businesses, restaurants and opening their eyes to what a great, walk-able city Dublin is. But the amazing things they are creating to make our lives easier will make our lives more similar, and will all have a dangerous tendency to turn us into 'Couch Taytos'. You have been warned…