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I’m often asked what I think about the original Star Wars series versus the “new stuff”. A debate that will surely rear its ugly head again in the next year as Episode VII nears its December 2015 release date. I think, for me, I’ve determined what the problem is and why those of us who grew up with Darth, Luke, Han and Leia have a hard time with the newer movies when the younger generation just loves them.
The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980. I was an impressionable nine year-old. Although I had seen the original Star Wars, it didn’t resonate with me as much as Empire did. When May 21 of that year hit, my life it would seem was changed forever. After seeing the film, it was all I could do to stop thinking about it and what I had seen. The cliffhanger ending was killing me and yet I seemed okay with the fact that I was going to have to wait three more years to find out what happened to Han (no spoilers here in case somehow you have missed Return of the Jedi).
That summer I saw the movie 13 times. The world was a different place. I took the bus by myself downtown to the beautiful Capitol Theatre (now the even more beautiful Sanderson Centre in Brantford). There was no internet (at least, not that mere mortals could access). I got excited by the occasional mention of the Star Wars universe on the television and I wouldn’t even get a VCR for four more years so the idea of being able to watch the movie “on demand” was not even a thought in my young mind. Instead, I had to rely on my mind through my memories and imagination.
For me, getting the action figures from the movies and being able to recreate scenes from the film helped bring me back to my happy place inside the Star Wars universe. We couldn’t afford to get all the playsets and ships, so I built a lot of them out of cardboard. I used my creative side to paint them like I remembered them in the movies and as soon as I could I ordered the photo books from the school book service so that I could go back there. When the movie eventually made it onto television, a VCR-less me compromised by recording the audio of the film onto cassette. I could then listen (and listen I did) to the movie with my eyes closed and pictured it all in my mind.
If I told this story to a nine year-old today, I would get strange looks. “Dude, why wouldn’t you just watch it on Netflix or look it up on your iPad?” It just wasn’t possible. I was so desperate for a connection to the universe I even cut out the black and white mini-movie poster that was printed into the newspaper with the local theatre listings and posted it on my bedroom wall. Yes, that’s honestly how it was.
Today, I feel like the instant access we have to everything “on demand” somehow diminishes our connections to content. I am pretty sure good movies have been made after the 80s, but I would be hard pressed to find one that hasn’t held such a close connection with me. Not only is there instant access to so much of the content we get today that there is, in fact, more content out there than I can possibly keep up with. This got me to thinking, how do others deal with content overload?
In my case the biggest problem I have is video games. With over 15,000 to choose from I am rarely bored. However, I have needed to come up with a system to keep track of everything I want to play. In my vast game collection there are surely a ton of stinkers, but there are also some amazing games from the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s that I have missed. Heck, I’ve missed a lot of the games that made the most critically acclaimed lists in the past few years. So I had to come up with a system.
What I do now is maintain a list on Dropbox.com that I can access anywhere. It’s called “Games I need to play.txt” (notice the “need” and not “want”). It has two sub-sections: “Started and Never Finished” and “Games to Play”. I don’t really like leaving games unfinished and so when I look at this list I am reminded of what I need to finish up (as I am often playing more than one game at a time) and then for my larger list I prioritize it with what should be next “on deck”. The list is dynamic, changing as I remember what I want to play or come across things of influence from my colleagues. I also have to admit sometimes I choose to play shorter games so that I can get through them and feel more “accomplished”. The site www.howlongtobeat.com is an amazing resource for this sort of thing.
When I asked my friends how they deal with content overload I got some interesting feedback. John Matescsa from www.picassofish.com actually has an algorithm for dealing with his backlog of books. John shared it with me and it goes something like this:
1. I always have one serious and one fun book on the go and which I put on top of the night stand along with my reading glasses. Sometime I cheat and have two of each kind on the go.
2. I keep a pile of books I want to read someday in my night stand.
3. If I get bored with a book, I trade it with one in my night stand.
4. When I finish a book, I choose another from inside my night stand.
5. If I get tempted by a new book I buy it. If it will not fit in my night stand, then I discard the book that interests. Same goes for books that I’m given.
6. I do have a book shelf at work and one at home for books that I want to keep for later reference. If they get too full, I discard things of least interest.
7. I discard books by giving them to someone, donation to a charity or yard sale.
That’s pretty organized. It’s a little more efficient than how I deal with movies I have yet to watch. Presently, the ones that are on the shelf (Blu-ray or DVD) get “pulled out” a little bit so I can see them clearly among all of my other movies. Since they are all in alphabetical order I don’t want to just pull them out randomly and create a new pile.
A friend shared with me a good way to deal with television content. Just PVR or DVR all the content and then watch as you can. I tried this, but filled up my hard drive so I had to go out and buy an external drive. That drive is now dangerously full. There was some good advice in there, however. “What I do is record all the episodes of a TV show and then when it’s all done I go on a watching marathon and binge on the content for an entire day or two. If it’s a new series and I find out it has been cancelled before I even watch it, I delete all of the content and that way I’m not investing in a show that will ultimately let me down with no additional content.”
Algorithms, mechanisms, processes and lists all to deal with an over abundant amount of content. It’s a wonder there is any room left in our brains to remember or think about what we consumed last week, let alone last year. Yet I find myself looking forward to more content in an ADHD kind of way, I can’t seem to get enough. This is, ultimately, why there will never be anything better in my life than the original Star Wars and other films of the 80s (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, Stripes, Uncle Buck, Back to the Future). At the end of the day, I’m okay with it because there is always something good and interesting around the corner, even if I have to implement a system to manage it all. There are definitely worse things in life.
Syd Bolton is a favourite writer for The Silo, is Canada’s Top Video Game collector and the Curator and Founder of the Personal Computer Museum. Learn more at http://www.pcmuseum.ca or www.sydbolton.com. Twitter @sydbolton