The Stench of Death

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Matt Zoller Seitz writes in Salon about the imminent demise of Blockbuster, the movie rental chain store:

I have many fond memories of roaming the aisles with my friends, arguing about which titles to rent, calling out to each other from across the store when we found something interesting, perusing the fine print on video boxes and discovering odd, marginal credits.… I had some involved, sometimes pivotal conversations while loitering in the aisles at the Blockbuster near my school or apartment or workplace, including one in which my best friend helped me talk myself into breaking up with a girl I was dating who was beautiful and charming but not remotely interested in any film released before the year of her birth. She fell asleep during “Dr. Strangelove.”

I can’t say I spent much time in a Blockbuster store to have developed an archive of memories, so I have no strong feelings about Blockbuster’s inevitable ruinations; but, Mr. Seitz’s sense of loss could be echoed for other types of brick-and-mortar stores: the music shop or the book store. While a Barnes & Noble store has yet to attain the air of decay permeating a Blockbuster, it will only be a matter of time, now that Kindle books sales have started to outnumber hardcover book sales.

It use to be you could make unexpected discoveries while wandering around these stores, all triggered by the lure of a cover or the type on a spine. And these discoveries would incite conversations, amongst friends and even complete strangers, about their merits. Now, these discoveries are managed by algorithms called recommender systems and the conversations have moved to online social networks where we share our experiences in the form of, essentially, peer reviews. Of course, what is missing is a sense of place (the cause of nostalgia for these shops) because online there is no locus—since the internet is, in fact, everyplace.