Panem et Circenses 2.0...


is fast and furiously streamed. But only from the top.

Panem et Circenses 2.0... /img/netflix-addiction.jpg
(source: KnowYourMeme)

Netflix tests of a new mode to watch shows and films at up to twice the normal speed prompted a very good observation about the “Troubling age of algorithmic entertainment”.

Nothing new here…

Art and entertainment are made by creators to be experienced in a certain way. Technology and “freedom” to use it as one wishes allow end users to modify that experience or, as some creators say, “ruin the purity of their [artistic] vision”.

In and by itself, this is nothing new, and so far has been no real tragedy for society. Quoting that article:

“For centuries, people have read books in random ways, watched film while half focused on something else, or listened to music while scrubbing the floor. And sometimes, the ability to mess around with art leads to new things: clever remixes, or unexpected, fruitful meetings with other ideas.”

Ability to “mess around with art” is also what makes it possible to skip commercials in a recorded movie. And the fact that artist often change what they produce according to how their users react is also nothing new.

Or not?

The problem this time is who makes the “messing” and user-artist interactions happen, how, and with which consequences (the why is obvious: money).

The problem is when “messing and interaction” don’t happen by direct, unfiltered interaction between creators and users, but are totally shaped and deliberately intensified by top-down, algorithm-based streaming services.

Unsurprisingly, streaming platforms like Spotify or TikTok “push music that sounds tailored… to data-driven systems of mood-enhancing background music.”

In doing so, the platforms, and the platforms only, shape what music is. It is them, not users, who push artists to “make their songs shorter and focus more on memorable hooks”.

Eventually, total, automatic control from the platforms changes not just what “content” is produced by artists, but also (by pushing them to consume content in bulimic ways) changes the users, that is all of us. The end result is “a dumbing down, a dull sameness” not just of music or movies, but of society as a whole.

Sure, this is exactly what has been happening with TV, radio and music labels for decades. But never at such a scale, so automatically and quickly, without any human controller (greedy and ruthless as much as he could, but still human, and humanly limited) in the loop.

Above all, quoting again, “unlike a setting on a TV, the size and influence of the tech giants means it won’t be something you can simply switch off”. Like the telescreen of 1984, basically:

Panem et Circenses 2.0... /img/1984-telescreen.jpg

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