Rarity versus the Internet


It’s an odd thing to be nostalgic for, but it’s 100% true.

It was always a neat experience rooting around in a record store and seeing some Import/EP/Single of a favorite band with tracks just waiting to be heard and passed to friends.

Of course 90% of the time those extra/unreleased tracks were god-awful. But now and then you found a real prize.


the social capital that comes from having an encyclopedic knowledge of some band’s b-sides has been greatly diminished

Umm sorry. There never WAS social capital to that kind of asperger/mansplaining/geeky shit. Does anybody think that Record Store Asshole Clerk, or Hyper Critical Film Buff / Video Store Troll were ever really an essential part of our society? No, didn’t think so.

1 Like

Just to abuse the metaphor to the breaking point, ‘social capital’ instruments can be denominated in many, many, different currencies, some more valuable than others, and some more widely traded, more liquid, etc. than others.

Is there social capital to deep obscurantist knowledge of assorted obscurantist stuff? Absolutely. Now, it may be denominated in a currency that only other enthusiasts of bootleg East German children’s television are willing to accept, and which trades against more useful social capital at an exchange rate similar to one of the iconic hyperinflation currencies; but it’s still social capital. It’s like the assorted marks of identity in various subcultures: It’s hard to argue with the fact that some subcultures are a lot more rewarding to be accepted by than others; but they all have their jargons, their pecking orders, their insider/outsider distinctions.

Also, at the risk of impoliteness, could you please not put ‘mansplaining’ in the same list as ‘asperger’ and ‘geeky shit’? All three can, at times, share a tone of condescending superiority of knowledge; but putting the custom of Making Sure A Man Has The Last Word, because chicks just don’t understand this stuff, in the same category as (socially unhelpful and often downright annoying, admittedly) hyperfocus on niche arcana, especially the kind caused by a congenital neurological disorder, is kind of a dick move.


I would argue that the internet has had just as large of an impact on “rare” physical goods as well. Any mass-produced plastic doohicky made in the last 50 years seems to be readily available on, say, Ebay.

I remember in the early 90s trying to relive my childhood by collecting all of the original Star Wars figures and thinking to myself that it would never be complete because the likelihood of a figure like Yak Face coming up for sale in one of the local comic shops was practically zero. Now I can buy one on Ebay (for a price), have my pick of condition, whether it’s still in the package, etc.

Regarding the record analogy, we aren’t just talking about digital copies of physical goods. Yes, someone can hear something easily that was previously relegated to an “obscure” physical copy, but the internet also facilitates connecting the available physical copies with parties interested in purchasing said physical copy…


I read this yesterday and wrote a comment on the article at Medium but I think there’s more nuance than the 400-character comment limit there allows (although I think such a small limit on comments is a good idea for that site’s format).

It’s true that by the strict definition, nothing is rare anymore if it’s on the internet. But there’s still a difference between something everyone always had access to, and something that was a physical rarity in “olden times” pre-internet. We’re not quite at the point where absolutely everything is immediately accessible.

All of the examples he used were things that were once rare. Truly, there is irony in labeling something “rare” on youtube, where everyone in the world has access to it. But in practical terms, it still does mean that today they are still rarely seen - even if the acoustic version of Sweet Child O’ Mine has a couple million views on youtube, that pales in comparison to the billions of people who have probably heard the original song by now.

But the real issue here seems to be the concept of being “media cool”, the thinking that knowing about obscure stuff has value. Setting aside the comic-book-guy types, doesn’t it though? This is a big part of boingboing… as an obvious example, the editors here sometimes bring us interesting, obscure musical recordings or performances that have little value to most people (recently, the Velvet Underground concert with bad sound) but which we (or some of us anyway) find interesting.

So “rare” has a deeper meaning in this context - it’s something that a) isn’t widely known/heard/seen, for a start. Sometimes, it’s something that would be interesting to a lot of people… although I’m not sure any of the article author’s examples count. Not even obscure Beatles recordings, the most interesting of which are commercially available for those who are interested anyway. So, important to this discussion is that often it’s also the case that b) these are things that don’t really have wide appeal. Which is the same as ever; band b-sides and rarities being a good example - the stuff with the broadest appeal gets released and promoted; the extras may have very high appeal but only to a select group of hard-core fans.

Finally, with that in mind, rarity in its original meaning is still relevant on the internet. As I mentioned at the beginning, we are not quite at a point where everything ever created is available to us. There are still things - music, film, TV, everything - that don’t even qualify as rare in the original sense, but which are still impossible to find on the internet. As someone whose tastes often run to the obscure (as is the case with many boingboing readers I’m sure), I quite frequently am stumped trying to find something I am interested in, either through legitimate means or otherwise. And b-sides and EPs, even from really well-known bands, are often out of print and can still be impossible to find anywhere even to download ripped mp3s of. That still counts as being “rare”, surely.

And even when we do get to the point where everything ever is accessible immediately, things will still be rare by the deeper definition of “rarely seen and/or of rare interest”, because there’s just too much stuff for everyone to be familiar with everything.


I may just be too young to really have the experience to be nostalgic for, or I may be focused on a different sort of gratification; but I was always too conscious of the flip side of rarity for it to be pleasurable. The nagging knowledge of how many known unknowns I had no access to, and how many unknown unknowns were, sometimes irrevocably, rotting out or being disposed of that can now be available to stumble across more or less in perpetuity.

Because of the sheer volume of accumulated human culture and media, even perfect preservation(which we haven’t reached, though cheap digital technology is probably the biggest step forward since either written language or printing, depending on how you want to argue it) doesn’t eliminate the ‘serendipitous discovery’ process, it just makes it more likely that it’ll happen on archive.org, and less likely that “Are You Popular?” and “A Date With the Family” will rot on 16mm in some high school’s junk closet that I’d need to know a guy who is friends with the now-retired home-ec teacher to ever have learned about, much less get access to.

Indie Rock Pete is probably heartbroken.


The author uses comic book guy as an easy example, but that’s not really what we’re talking about (and the character is obviously an exaggeration anyway).

There is value to having deep knowledge of obscure topics, which often means combining knowledge from many different sources in a coherent way. The context is different, but this is the heart of academia - to truly understand something you consult an expert on a topic instead of looking it up on wikipedia, because the expert understands the context and all the nuances.

Alas, your comment is mainly just perpetuating the comic book guy stereotype - not that there is zero truth to it, mind you, but you’re lumping in things inappropriately (asperger’s does not belong in your rant, possible correlation notwithstanding) in order to disparage others more broadly than your examples of Record Store Asshole Clerk and Video Store Troll (which otherwise I’d join you in disparaging).


Those guys have just moved on to the 21st century equivalent – pedantic Internet commenter – with all the same social value and essential stature in modern society.


Good taste is still rare.


You know what, I was going to make some long diatribe about how the uncool things were impossible to find on the net…

And then I went looking. Looking for something very specific. On an off beat tv show in the mid 90’s call Weird TV I remember there being a clip about Survival Research Laboratories.

I looked and found nothing.
I looked on youtube for Weird TV and to my surprise they actually have a channel.
And then I found it. Well not exactly like I remember it, but I did learn SRL was once PeopleHater.

And with 58 views it might still be rare…
(And even odder that I can’t link directly to said video…)

1 Like

Hey, if you’re gonna be the kind of asshole who uses neurological disorders as slurs, could you maybe just go straight to “retarded”? It helps the rest of us know we should ignore you. Thanks!


Some things are still pretty rare. I only just managed to find a good FLAC copy of the JAMMs’ “1987”.

I still have my “U2 Negativland” CD.


Living with an Asperger’s kid, I agree with the original sentiment. He’s right - there is no social capital to this love of arcana. I get to listen to it all the time. And Aspergers isn’t so much a disorder as a personality type, as far as I can tell, having years of experience dealing with it (and probably somewhere in that range myself). After all, it’s been removed from the latest DSM.

When you need some arcana, be glad that there are folks who specialize in it.

But do you have the ultra-rare LP?

I’m wondering how distinct and unique cultures will fare in the future since the internet puts the world at your fingertips.
I noticed this couple years ago while in Kenya where a Masai warrior complete with machete and herd of goats asked if would friend him on Facebook.


I still have my copy of that Negativeland CD as well. And now it’s not cool anymore?

Crap, at least I can still be cool by pointing out all the places in my old neighborhood where different stores or buildings used to be…

I was being unclear. I was once “diagnosed” (probably mis-diagnosed) as possibly high functioning aspie, and let me bore you to tears with all the useless information about aviation, trains, and non-autmobile transportation in general.

Let me explain how none of that huge volume of information went very far with the ladies, never paid the bills, and how thankfully I have another job which pays me to be highly detail oriented and a loving wife and family just the same.

I used to watch this show very late at night when I was a teenager. Was just trying to find this rare footage recently. Thank you for posting Weird TV.

1 Like