On the way to Maine over fall break, I found something that altered my opinion of the American consumer forever and for the worse. No, I'm not referring to iPod vending machines (which actually exist and certainly represent a nail in our gilded, opulent coffin).
I'm talking about the latest scourge to spew forth from American throw-away society: the no-return DVD rental from Flexplay.
In the gas station module of one of the ubiquitous, cookie-cutter rest stops that intersperse I-90, my brother drew my attention to the prepostrosities, asking, "So what, do these expire after two days or something?" Thinking he was referring to some food item, I was surprised and increasingly horrified to realize he was referring to a six-dollar DVD.
The latest innovation from Flexplay - a self-described "developer and supplier of limited-life optical media technology" - the DVDs, bearing popular titles like Babel, contain a clear, oxygen-reactive dye embedded within the resin that bonds the two halves of the disk. Once the disk is unwrapped and exposed to oxygen, the dye oxidizes and after 48 hours turns an opaque blue, rendering the DVD unreadable.
With an optimism that seems to fly in the face of all reason, Flexplay calls this development a great alternative to "the headache of store lines, mailboxes or late fees." Who would buy a DVD that only lasts only two days, you ask? Costing more than a regular rental but less than buying a new movie, the product finds its niche in "people who travel often, travel with kids or simply don't want to worry about the hassles associated with conventional DVD rental services."
Here's a translation of Flexplay's buzzy lingo: "Too damn impatient or pathologically lazy to pack a movie for your trip, or even download one from iTunes? Buy one that destroys itself in two days instead!" There are so many things wrong with this new marketing ploy I can't even see straight.
Most obviously, the sheer wastefulness of the scheme is a giant kick in the crotch of an even mildly environmentally-conscious person. Flexplay makes much of the recyclability of its DVDs (they are plastic, after all) and of its mail-in recycling initiative with Greendisk, a recycler of DVDs and all kinds of "technotrash" that sells your recyclables back to you as eco-friendly office supplies.
But there are a few flaws in that plan, too: recycling is a downstream initiative to recover a fraction of the resources spent in production. Also, the concept of a mail-in recycling program runs directly counter to Flexplay's selling point of avoiding mailboxes: If the consumer is too lazy to subscribe to a mail service like Netflix, is he or she going to bother to go online, fill out a form, receive a prepaid envelope and mail a dud DVD cross-country for recycling? I'm afraid not.
On top of all the waste generated by such a short-life, petroleum-intensive commodity, the scheme is just logically absurd. The fact is, the disks are only "rentals" because they destroy themselves after two days. What should be a durable product is rendered disposable through chemical reaction. There is no such thing as a "no-return rental," because by definition, rentals are returned. The term "disposable" is just too stigmatized to use.
I guess what I'm really trying to say is, if we are really becoming this lazy and complacent with wastefulness, even in our reeling oil-based economy teetering on the edge of recession, then there is no way our society is going to survive at this level for much longer. And maybe that's a good thing. Excuse me while I go pray for the Dow to plunge a bit further and force us to abandon some of this decadence.
Matt Dubois is a senior English major who's got another brilliant proposition: if the mailbox is too far for you, hit the treadmill.