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Algorithmic entertainment is bringing dull sameness

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 06, 2019

The troubling age of algorithmic entertainment

Navneet Alang provides a good overview of the many ways in which the ever growing influence of various algorithms is transforming all forms of media, from motion smoothing, to “Spotify-core” music, to TikTok’s influence over length and memorable hooks.

The algorithmic delivery of music thus forms what, for Spotify, is a virtuous circle. But it also suggests that tech platforms don’t just deliver content, but that they shape it too, prioritizing quick hits and short tracks because those are the things that generate the most engagement.

Those platforms and their algorithms change not only the form of the content we consume but the way we consume it, like Netflix’s current test to allow speeding up of video playback, like some of us do when listening to podcasts.

Netflix is aware that people want to rush through content — not just to enjoy it, but also to then participate in the cultural conversation that’s around it. Is everyone at work talking about Succession, Fleabag, and that new true crime podcast, but you’re behind on all of them? Well, rip through them at double speed so you aren’t left out.

Alang argues that while we’ve always played around with how we read, view, or listen to art, we are now in front of something of a different magnitude.

But the sheer ubiquity of the streaming platforms for how we get content now suggests that the dominance of algorithms and their place in the attention economy aren’t entirely neutral or value-free. Disney, for example, is quietly placing classic Fox films into its so-called “vault,” where it hides movies from distribution for a while to drum up hype when they are re-released. One imagines this is so they can put them back on their forthcoming streaming service, to much delight.

Alas, as with so many things around the internet and “digital,” what was originally an opportunity for every little niche and taste to get its place in the sun, is instead being dumbed down into an “algorithmed” and business optimized mass of sameness.