Numerous technologies are attempting to save us time by making choices about our media consumption for us. Netflix suggests movies. The NYT recommends articles. I like Pandora’s version of this so much, I paid for the upgraded service.
As amazing as this is, it makes me wonder about what we’re losing.
In the past, I didn’t have these streams of content fed to me based upon a like or two; nope, I sorted through hundreds of options, investing time, money, physical exertion, social interactions and attention to find those things. I worked for my likes/dislikes.
What wasn’t apparent at the time was how the act of discovery in an era without the Internet actually characterized and shaped the meaning of what was found. Or put it another way: $1 million from working 20 years at a business feels a lot different than having someone hand you a briefcase full of $1 million because you checkmark a box that says “likes money.”
Discovery is cheaper now. Easier. Faster. Less personal. Lighter and broader, and optionally deeper — but only if you have a reason to dig in (and struggle/suffering is what compels us to know more).
Media is being detached from the social rituals around which we experiened it in the past. It’s having any movie you want anytime you want it, on any device, rather than the concept of a movie being integrated with a physical place, the theater (or your couch nowadays).
Movies, stories, music — they feel … more disposable? The cost of acquiring them, or re-discoverig them, is so low, the cost of letting them go and forgetting about them, is just as low.
This is confusing. Songs, films and mechanisms for channeling stories — these are the vehicles for narratives that generate common meanings that hold us together. Are our stories disposable now? Are we so rich with meaning, we can toss it out if it doesn’t make us feel exactly how we want?
What happens when all the data we provide to the machines making our choices are choices that were made my machines? Does innovation happen in the friction of real life and all its costs and sacrifices? Or can the infinite renewability of virtual life spawn an equally rich flow of art and meaning?