02 mai 2011

Voluntary Engineered Apathy

Implicit Comfort Zone (defined by the system)

Eli Pariser: Beware online "filter bubbles" (TED talk, March 2011) 9'05"
As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there's a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a "filter bubble" and don't get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. Eli Pariser argues powerfully that this will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy.

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  1. We acquire predictable habits by living in a self-alimented sphere (Closed distribution market)
  2. The system observes our habits, and defines a taste profile for us ("you might also like this")
  3. We consume the proposed choices and reinforce the taste pattern (Avoiding to be exposed to alterity)
  4. Our engineered consumption, observed by the system again after recommendations, comforts the system's predictions (Proving the system right)
All it takes is for consumers to be lazy enough, not to seek out new films by themselves, the ones hard to get hold of immediately, and a minimal satisfaction from the movies suggested by the system, to make us believe in the miracle of the taste pattern prediction.

"People who bought this DVD, also bought these" Why would I want to watch everything my neighbours (or the control group who picked the same movie as me) did? This assumes that people are not individuals but predictable robots. Also, it means that movies are not unique, but neatly fit into a statistical box where the same demographic will come back to feed regularly like butterfly answering the call of pheromones...
Who said people who watch a type of movie would always want to rewatch the same type of movies? Statistics on the average consumer maybe... Open minded people with a normal dose of cultural curiosity, like to discover things that escape their usual diet, to be surprised, shocked, startled, challenged, transformed. Unfortunately we move towards a standardized universe that suits all too well the industries that produce a limited number of cultural goods, one-size-fits-all, mass produced for optimal cost. The Long Tail Consumption (the peer to peer exchange) is the nightmare of big corporations that can't count in small numbers. 
If you live in a country where the titles of films available for distribution are predefined by overarching marketing strategies whose interest is to boost local economy (i.e. the titles/remakes offered by their national studio), chances are that you don't know what you're missing. The apparent plethora of titles distributed every week keeps consumers busy with pointless choices between half-good and mediocre (deceptive free will). Meanwhile they don't worry about the actually great films they are missing. Because this involves effort to think outside the box and go get the informations by yourself. Moreover, being subject to this cultural isolationism and conditioning, since an early age (as the entire society is built upon these systems of predetermined options) shapes up an even more predictable taste pattern, one that will make you feel repulsed by alternative choices or challenging tastes, should you ever stumble upon them by accident. Just like babies fed with sweets refuse to eat spinach. Demanding what "feels rewarding immediately" is not always the best option for your long term intellectual development. You have to eat spinach! But you don't know it, and it doesn't feel right. But it's not because it's harder than you should always go for the easy choice that feels like hitting home. These systems of taste patterns are treating movie goers like babies, constantly feeding them what they want, and not what is good for a healthy culture and a sensibility to alterity. Infantilization of the masses. And since the mass is happy with it... nobody cares to ask for alternative choices. 

Critics can not walk into the system without any critical distance with its consequences, conveniently locked on the railtracks of the industrial optimisation of consumer goods. You can't behave like any other consumer, blissfully happy with the tailored choices delivered to your doorsteps, like as many trees hiding the forest that distributors do not want you to peek into, because it's more trouble and less profit for them to inject these in the system. Not to mention that inserting alternative choices in the system will screw up the predetermined taste patterns.

Don't think you escape the "filter bubble" because you don't rely on the multiplexes to watch movies... These filters are everywhere, investors decisions or online algorithms, at every level of the distribution system. And the most efficient ones are located at the root : keeping artists from making films in the first place, so their creation is not even surveyed as a potential choice excluded by the system. 

  • "Most popular articles" are what people who want to know what everyone else knows go for
  • "Most viewed videos" will be viewed even more (snowballing traffic)
  • "Favourited by most people" (approved by the mass)
  • "Trending news" is signaled as a hot topic to become hotter (this is what you should be interested in because everyone else is)
  • "Most subscribed" outlets will continue to get best exposition (and upstage everything else)
  • "Most followers" because alternative channels work like mainstream media (widest appeal = highest authority)

And the content available in the film criticism community is funneled through the same sort of filters and standardisations. Critics read critics who read critics. Knowledge keeps circulating inside a closed circuit, amongsts the same people who think alike. They keep exchanging informations coming from the same sources, allowed by the distribution system (Studios public relation talking points, Google/Facebook algorithm, clique forums, syndicated news, RSS feeds, Tweeter circular self-feeding) and the institutional media (paper press tradition, limited translations, outdated canons, stereotypical reviews, conservative taste, low ambition, anti-intellectualism). Linkage galore and Tweets only transmit what publicists intend to publish and reviews of available material. Either the titles excluded by the system are totally ignored, deemed inexistent, or their rare and awkward mention amidst the flow of "official zeitgeist" feels out of place to the conditioned readers who don't know what to do with them.

Think about it : everything you write about, you got it from pre-existing channels of official informations, and you're only able to reflect in a limited number of ways about a limited quantity of informations pre-approved by the system. A critic can not rely on a pre-packaged series of information without questioning where they come from, what infrastructure allowed them to come to you, and what absent informations are missing, blocked off by that system. Critics need to take a look at the big picture to figure out by themselves what is the selection of pertinent information they would like to highlight, without being spoon-fed by a frame of mind (intentional propaganda or mindless automatization).

Critics think by themselves. 

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The antidote to apathy (engagement)
TED talk : Toronto 2010, Dave Meslin, Oct 2010, 7'
Local politics -- schools, zoning, council elections -- hit us where we live. So why don't more of us actually get involved? Is it apathy? Dave Meslin identifies 7 barriers that keep us from taking part in our communities, even when we truly care. Multi-partisan and fiercely optimistic, Dave Meslin embraces ideas and projects that cut across traditional boundaries between grassroots politics, electoral politics and the arts community. 
Leadership is about :
  1. Collective effort (engagement of a whole community, each at their level/capacity)
  2. Imperfect (not glamourous, doesn't suddenly start/stop, lifelong ongoing process)
  3. Voluntary (no hero-messiah prophecy)


6 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

Eating Your Cultural Vegetables By Dan Kois (NYT, 29 April 2011)

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Manohla Dargis: "What is boring? This question was inspired by a piece in the May 1 edition of The New York Times Magazine by Dan Kois that offered a cheerful conformist’s take on what in certain circles is sometimes termed slow cinema and that he simply finds boring, the equivalent of eating his “cultural vegetables.”"

AO Scott: "Vegetables! Yuck! [..] I would like to think there is room in the cinematic diet for various flavors, including some that may seem, on first encounter, unfamiliar or even unpleasant."

In Defense of the Slow and the Boring By Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott (NYT, 3rd June 2011)

HarryTuttle a dit…

"In this powerful talk from TEDGlobal, Rebecca MacKinnon describes the expanding struggle for freedom and control in cyberspace, and asks: How do we design the next phase of the Internet with accountability and freedom at its core, rather than control? She believes the internet is headed for a "Magna Carta" moment when citizens around the world demand that their governments protect free speech and their right to connection."
TED Global (Jul 2011)

- World map of social networks (June 2009 - June 2011)

HarryTuttle a dit…

Kevin Slavin argues that we're living in a world designed for -- and increasingly controlled by -- algorithms. In this riveting talk from TEDGlobal, he shows how these complex computer programs determine: espionage tactics, stock prices, movie scripts, and architecture. And he warns that we are writing code we can't understand, with implications we can't control."
TED talk, Kevin Slavin, July 2011

HarryTuttle a dit…

Netflix's Pragmatic Chaos algorithm (Spet 2009)

Super Crunchers: Why Thinking by Numbers is the New Way to be Smart By Ian Ayres (Aug 2007)

"Epagogix's approach helps management of this most critical financial risk by delivering accurate predictive analysis of the Box Office value of individual film scripts, and by identifying and quantifying how and where to improve their commercial value. If requested, Epagogix sensitively bridges the gap between the financial and creative aspects of film production by providing quantified insights and advice to those responsible for script development."
WTF? Is it what Variety uses to write their BO prediction-driven film reviews at festivals?

Phil Hoad explains how to construct the next summer blockbuster (The Guardian, 13 July 2007)

HarryTuttle a dit…

"Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz's estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied."
Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice (TED talk; Jul 2005)

HarryTuttle a dit…

"[..] Tout individu naît dans une communauté qui va lui transmettre un ensemble de valeurs qu’il n’aura pas choisies. Quand on met dans la tête d’une personne dès son jeune âge que faire ou penser telle chose « c’est très bien » ou au contraire que « c’est un grave péché », elle le croira avant même d’avoir pu « se faire sa propre idée ». Il se peut qu’elle reste toute sa vie avec cette idée reçue, comme il se peut qu’elle soit amenée à très sérieusement réfléchir à la question pour ensuite maintenir ou changer sa position. Et il en va ainsi de toutes les valeurs reçues au cours de l’enfance.

Ce qui a changé par rapport à l’autorité, c’est que l’individu une fois adulte peut aujourd’hui choisir beaucoup plus librement les autorités auxquelles il se soumet - sans toutefois pouvoir systématiquement retracer toutes les sources d’influences ni le processus par lequel il les aurait sélectionnées. Mais un individu ne peut penser par lui-même sur tous les sujets et il doit bien se rapporter à d’autres sources auxquelles il donne une valeur, une autorité quelconque. [..]"
Toi le critique, qui es-tu pour juger? (Antoine Godin; Hors-champ; 4 janvier 2012)