Stream my needs: Fishing in the sea of creative destruction
By Anton Memminger
Do our entertainment preferences change? It seems like a trivial question because, as our world develops, our problems and understanding develop with it. The rise of the meme – and the inability of most people over 40 to understand it – and the social platform TikTok, home to loads of gen z creators, which makes Millennials, who grew up on Instagram and Facebook, cringe in disgust, are examples of "change". But then again, there are some points to be made that these developments are just on how we consume, not what. Are memes just the internet version of the old-school caricature? Do TikTokers really create radically new content, or is it simply optimizing old entertainment concepts for the smartphone? Christopher Booker has formulated a nice argumentation along those lines, although well before TikTok was founded. He claims that not all stories are the same, but almost all narratives follow one of seven basic plots. What makes stories new are their settings. There are exceptions, but they are few and often live in the shadow of "big-seven"-style productions.
Leaving aside the question for the development of entertainment content, let's have a look at entertainment experiences. Here, the technological process has had an undeniable impact. Its effects might be grouped into three classes.
Similar to boomers' attitude towards TikToks is Gen Z's attitude towards 60s movies. The picture quality, the sound design, and the style of filmmaking due to limited equipment solutions, like rear-projection car scenes, are so different compared to modern films that few can concentrate on the actual story and hence have a compromised experience. The finishing refers to these exact changes in the feel and look of movies, books, and other media productions.
With the invention of the gramophone, the music industry changed. Suddenly the concept of music as something local came under pressure. Previously a community would fulfill its desire for music by attending live performances often done by a set of performers from that very community. Now, also driven by the publicity made by record companies, they considered listening to their favorite musicians, the stars, in the comfort of their home. Technology facilitates access on two levels. For consumers choice on platforms increases and costs fall, while creators get access to a potentially unlimited customer base for their content. The streaming revolution is the latest technology pushing access.
With the smartphone, we entered an era of hyper-targeting. Almost all contents you see on your display undergo a testing and selection procedure by an algorithm that provides only those deemed relevant for you. 75% of activities on Netflix are made through recommendations. The biggest social medias have identified personalization of their feeds, search functions, and advertisements as a critical component for success. A switch from static self-selected content to content curation is probably the most striking feature of today's entertainment options. Important to note is that content was also curated in ancient times, but it was curated at audiences, communities or festivities rather than the single individuum. This is what makes the current recommendations so exciting. Access through technology has made entertainment an infinite cosmos, which then again had to be structured with new technologies like AI to be exploited to its fullest.
So indeed, entertainment is changing. But is it any good? The answer very much depends on what aspect you want to focus on. With the instant availability of content at almost every moment, most adults and in particular parents are skeptical, both in general but particularly with a view on a children's development. And there is evidence that especially social media can have a negative impact on users' mental health and, furthermore, might lower your abilities to memorize and concentrate.
Furthermore, the entry barrier to production has been basically abolished, which has broadened users' input but also created opportunities for trolls, scams, and the distribution of dubious messages. Another point hits on the scope of entertainment. As we spend more time entertaining ourselves, time for other activities falls. In the case of news, it has led to an integration with entertainment platforms, creating the field of infotainment. Unfortunately, coverage tends to be biased, opinionated and oversimplifying to convey strong messages. This involves infographics in particular. The debate around fake news is closely connected to this new form of journalism.
But there is the good stuff too. Although risk of building a bubble is associated with content curation, it has never been easier to find exactly what you want. A great example from the music industry is Shazam. You hear a song you like, find it instantly, and immediately add it to your playlist. This would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. For children content it is no longer limited to a selection of popular children's books and tv channels. For them, the access component is the most disruptive of any group. It introduces them at the earliest point to news and facts relevant in daily life. With this background, it is surprising that Instagram's kids' version was hit with such a high level of hate, because there is a vast potential. Particularly in learning, reading, and foreign languages, entertainment can be a game-changer. The Nordics are often taken as an example, highlighting the role of missing synchronizations of English movies contributing to their learning efforts. In a broader sense the education software market is booming. It challenges the established processes of educational institutions by putting the individual at the center of the scholastic journey.
Let's take a step back. The role of entertainment is undeniable. It is so ambiguous that it is not featured in Maslow's pyramid of needs, and yet boredom is the ex-champion of first-world problems. But with the rising importance of entertainment comes the debate about its regulation. Recent examples are Twitter's ban of Donald Trump and Facebook's approach in deleting content that violates its community standards. Companies are pushed to keep their platforms "tidy" but more and more national governments step in and start efforts to regulate the industry.
This is an excellent opportunity to illustrate the importance of global policymaking. The internationality that makes progress in entertainment so exciting is threatened as versions of platforms become more nationalistic due to specific regulations. We need new rules to cope with this new technology, but they must be globally universal. This is similar to other hot topics of political debate, like climate change. The most pressing problems to our world are global, and through globalization their impact follows the scheme of the weakest link. We need to embrace supranational organizations and challenge what fields lack oversight to subsequently fill those gaps. This wouldn't induce the death of the nation-state, but rather help governments coordinate and solve problems effectively with the needs of their citizens in mind.
"The Seven Basic Plots"; Christopher Booker; 2004