event things and thing things

April 2, 2005
So, lately I've been thinking about what I spend my leisure dollars on.

I declined an invitation to get tickets to see Lewis Black live, in part because the tickets are $42. And, leaving aside for a moment the risk of me being a serious cheapskate, it got me thinking about what people are willing to spend their entertainment dollars on.

Roughly, there's a great divide of entertainment "things": one time "event things": trips with hotel stays, live performances, restaurant meals, movies at the cinema. Then there are "thing things": books, DVDs, CDs, video games, assorted toys.

"Event things" tend to be ephemeral; you experience them, and then you have mostly memories from then on in. (Though sometimes there's a chance to buy or make a memento, like taking photographs.) In general, their value is that hopefully, they enrich part of your life, or do a really good job of entertaining you, in the case of live performance. And that's one issue with "event things": our own memories are so unreliable (or at least mine is) that unless something makes a really deep impression it will likely not come to mind except when explicitly triggered. That's one of the reasons I keep a daily journal as well as a separate "media consumed" record, though those cover both "event things" and uses of the "thing things".

Hopefully, say, live performances entertain you more than the equivalent "thing thing" media representation....I think one of my hesitations with Lewis Black was the thought that I could probably buy a DVD for one half to one fourth the price. And indeed, I caught an older performance on Comedy Central the next day, for "free". But, in retrospect, I probably didn't laugh as much on my own as I would have as a part of an audience. There's definitely an enjoyable kind of synergy that goes on with a bunch of people laughing at the same stuff...hence laugh tracks (I've read that they were introduced so lone home viewers didn't feel so lonely.) And there are other intangibles: possibly socializing with a big group of like-minded people, bragging rights. I'd say that in a capitalist society, paying a premium price for a ticket is a kind of like voting, a small way of expressing support in the cultural marketplace.

So, back to "thing things". I will spend money on the first release of a video game I really like, currently that's around $50. That's a bit more than the Lewis Black ticket, but, assuming the game isn't a dud, it's many more hours of entertainment. (Counterpoint: it's often a lot of padding and plodding as well...and shouldn't hours be reckoned as part of the cost, not the value, of a game? Depends on how entertaining it is and how satisfying it is to complete.) Also, it enters my library of games, and I can repeat it in the future, or lend it to a friend, and of course if it has a great multiplayer mode, it can remain valuable for a long long while.

Books have similar value propositions, and building a library is a pleasure in and of itself. Public Libraries lack that, as well as being generally less convenient, often with a wait for the book that you want. Also with books you get "bragging rights" and hope of "life enrichment", very similar to what you get with "event things". With all of that, it's pretty strange to think about how many thousands and thousands are invested in my book, music, dvd, and game libraries. On the other hand, they do form my cultural identity, and they tell guests in my house a bit about who I am...and the guests can borrow from them as well.

And with all "thing things", there's the prospect of clutter. That's a big issue with me. Not only did I pay to assemble my libraries, I keep paying for it: pay enough rent to have space for it, it adds inertia to changing living quarters, and adds to the intangible cost of having a less zen-like life.

I guess one place you see "event things" and "thing things" go head to head is the battle between watching movies in cinemas vs. DVDs, especially now that cheap DVDs and decent home theater setups bring the costs more in line. Cinemas offer a bigger screen, but mostly I think it's the chance to engage in the cultural conversation while it's still a hot topic. DVDs offer better seating, normally-priced food, and the ability to pause, along with the "library" factor I mentioned above.

Heh, one thing about me in this debate...it's much easier to grab a great quote from a "thing thing" than from an "event thing", where often I'm stuck with a paraphrase. And grabbing a funny or smart quote from something is a great way of extracting and preserving value.

Just some thoughts. One other note/gripe: I went to see "Sin City" with friends last night, and it was very good...violent in parts, but the superpower/Noir thing was extremely cool. But as I noticed in the parking garage there at the Fenway complex, they should really consider labeling themselves something more than "Fenway Theater"...another couple looking for the movies shared the same uncertainty I did...without the phrase "cinema" or "movie theater", we suddenly wondered if there was a stage-performance area there instead, and that we had to keep searching for the directions to the movies.