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The Longform

May 12, 2022

All The Data

The same news comes around every few years: Friends, the TV show that shows no slowing down in popularity, moves to another streaming service. From Netflix to HBO Go Max, this is one show that always makes headlines when it moves. Plenty of others makes the rounds too: Seinfeld, classic Disney films, etc.

But there are those who are immune to this Where's Waldo of programming. People who look to own their media and have it always available at the press of a button, regardless of where it's available for streaming. In their cases, they may not even have a subscription. And it's never deleted.

This is the story of Data Hoarders.

Size Matters

To even begin to understand why "data hoarding" is even a thing, we need to turn back time to talk about storage. Those floppy disks and hard drives of the '80s and '90s were the tip of the iceberg on how to store data digitally. A standard 3.5" floppy in the '90s held a paltry 1.44MB of data. For comparison, a single HEIF image taken on an iPhone 12 is 2.2MB.

Computer and data storage devices continuously grew but it took almost three decades to get to a point where massive capacity is available for anyone to buy. Storage that was once unheard of (who even knew the word gigabyte in 1997?) is commonplace today. CDs used to be heralded for their capacity but pale when up against the SD card in a camera.

Generally, today most computers, phones, and any other device that requires storage are measured in gigabytes and even terabytes. This leads us directly down the path to realizing that storing nearly anything is not only possible but cheap.

Rip It

The idea of a data hoarder is someone who looks to acquire tons and tons of media and never gets rid of it. Ever. Deletion is not an option. The reasons for this are simple: if you own something, it cannot be taken away. The aforementioned situation with Friends moving off of Netflix is no bother to data hoarders. Their secret? Owning the physical media.

In order to shield against the song and dance of what show is where, they simply buy DVDs or Blu-Ray discs. Once owned, they do what we all did in the early 2000s: put the disc into a computer and copy it over to a drive.

And this is done over and over through each disc and even each season. It's a time-consuming process, but it has a major benefit: once done that show can be watched on any device the owner wants. The same goes for music one buys on CD or gets download codes for with vinyl purchases. Building a media library, once a vision of the futuristic living room, has weirdly gone the way of streaming.

But all that glitters is not streaming gold.

Mix It

When trying to get back into the world of profitability, Apple ran a successful ad campaign for the then-new iMac and iTunes software. The tagline: Rip, Mix, Burn. The concept was simple: copy your music CDs to your Mac, mix the songs up into your own custom playlist, then burn the songs onto a blank CD to listen to anywhere.

The tagline ruffled a few feathers in the music industry for the "rip" portion. They felt it was muddy given how Napster was eating their lunch. However, the idea of continuously adding physical media to a digital library was sound. This was a fairly accepted practice given how many iPods were sold and people always wanted to see what their friends had on them.

Then Spotify, Netflix, and Flickr came about. Where the Mac (or any computer in reality) served as the hub of a digital library, the internet started to encroach. Why put your photo on your computer when you could upload it to the cloud and keep it there? It took time, but eventually, we have all migrated away from that system and one to where we simply use whatever we want from a subscription granting access to a massive library.

But, none of it belongs to us. We're permanent renters.

Intentionally Manual

The convenience of using the cloud and subscription services is tempting, but the costs add up. Where "cord-cutting" was once the very economical solution to pricey cable bundles, now people have to juggle 4, 5, 6, or more subscriptions. We're now always nickeled and dimed. Exclusive shows also cause lock-in that we cannot avoid.

By manually buying a show on a physical format and partying like it's 2004, there are many who would rather plug a massive hard drive into their computer and keep their entertainment local. It may not seem like something that makes sense, but the hassle of constantly canceling/re-signing up for something like Paramount+ can be a driver to do this.

The biggest leap for data hoarders to keep going is the ease in which you can view your shows and movies on the big screen. Applications like InFuse, Jellyfin, Plex, and Channels allow one to stream shows from their local computer right onto the big screen.

For years Microsoft offered a version of Windows for HTPC (Home Theater PC) that let you navigate it with a remote control. Heck, even Apple has included an HDMI port on their Mac Mini for years because it's a small computer and fits easily in an entertainment center. While it may be a semi-niche piece of tech, its purpose is more important as time goes on.


One big reason data hoarding also exists is due to recording live TV. Like how so many people used TiVo to do this ten years ago, using an antenna and recording directly onto your massive hard drive is fast becoming preferable. Because in the US all over the air broadcasts cannot be encrypted, all one needs is an antenna and a tuner to record brand new shows. The modern software I mentioned earlier handles all of the logistics.

When combining this simple (and free!) way of acquiring new shows with the archiving techniques of older shows, it's a fast way to ensure a growing library. And as the offerings grow, so does the library.

Cheaper by the dozen

In the end, there are those who wish to not handle setting up a computer to do all this work nor invest in giant hard drives to store thousands of movies or shows. But to a group who is tired of paying endlessly for streaming services, it's a way to regain control of where their money and time are invested.

The prices of drives to store all this media are dropping all the time. Capacities unheard of only a decade ago are now the 'cheap' and 'small' drives one would get at Best Buy. To a data hoarder, this is an advantage. More drives equal more space which equals more media to put onto it for future viewing.

It may not be for everyone, but for those whom the delete key is an enemy, endlessly scrolling through a local library instead of the one on Netflix is an achievement they're quite proud of.

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TimeMachiner is written and produced by Aaron Crocco

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