Why I'm still a Netflix DVD mailer subscriber

"Are you serious?!"


This, in essence, is the same bit of conversation I have every time it comes up that I still use this virtually forgotten service. You're probably thinking the same thing as you read this. Most people are surprised to hear it still exists. Indeed, the idea of mailing people loaner DVDs in flimsy paper envelopes, the original moneymaking scheme on which the tech-behemoth Netflix of today was built, seems laughably anachronistic in a world where people binge-watch shows from their phones on their morning commutes. But, yes I'm serious: I'm still a subscriber, and I still love it.

If you're still reeling from the scandalizing suggestion that I deign to handle physical things where there is a digital alternative, let me first disabuse any notion that Netflix's streaming service, which my bundled plan gives me access to, is an alternative to its DVD mailer service. As any movie buff will agree, the selection of titles available on the streaming side is woefully shallow, and subject to rotation. It'll suffice for casual affectless viewing, plopping on the couch after a long week and scrolling for a way to plug two hours with baseline measurable emotional stimuli. When it comes to proactive feature-length viewership, however, nobody is trusting their odds with Netflix streaming.

There are other streaming platforms, of course, having broader title selections -- YouTube and iTunes both do 'a la carte' digital rentals, for instance. In fact I've utilized these intermittently. Frankly, a big reason I still use Netflix's DVD offering is that nobody's made me stop using it. The service still works and, from what I can tell, Netflix regards its cohort of physical DVD customers as a reliable cash cow. Reaching into my mailbox to retrieve a DVD and dropping it back in a few days (or weeks..) later is hardly an inconvenience, nor is the manual exertion of loading the disc into my DVD player and pressing play. Quite the opposite: I derive satisfaction from this ritual. The previews that begin playing upon insertion of the disc situate the viewer in the particular era of the silver screen the feature presentation hails from; the home screen begins to immerse us in the film's visual and auditory motifs as snippets of dialogue, anchoring scenes, or a highlight from the soundtrack loop behind the menu options. Enjoy it for a few moments: let the film embrace you. Then smash that play button!

If the reasons given thus far don't seem compelling enough, it's because they're not. Walking away from many a conversation resembling the example above, I've often searched myself to get to the heart of the matter. Why do I cling to this archaic ritual? Is it complacency? Technophobia? Delusional denial? Maybe, but I've discovered something else. It's about making a commitment and seeing it through. Through whatever means, a film enters my awareness and piques my interest, and I decide I want to devote two hours of my life to it. I go out of my way to add it to my queue (which, if you must know, at any time generally ranges from 20-30 titles). Some time later, I receive this film in the mail, and now it's sitting on my coffee table staring at me. In order to get to the next film in my queue, and any of the subsequent ones, I have two choices: either send it back unwatched, tail between my legs; or make good on my commitment to the past version of myself who elevated this film as worthy of consumption. It's about deciding to do something and doing it. It's not scrolling through a feed, it's not tapping through stories, it's not jacking into an interminable firehose of pop detritus jockeying for your attention and engineered to excite predictable emotions.

So, maybe a bit of intellectual elitism, too.

Someday -- any day now, you snicker -- Netflix will probably stop offering the DVD mailer service. Then what? Then I'll figure something else out. Until then, I'll be looking forward to my next red envelope!