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Abundant procrastination and the end of the critic

Two things have been swimming around my melon-sized head recently. Firstly, why is that endless choice doesn’t mean endless satisfaction? Secondly, if it’s so easy to experience film, music and most other forms of popular culture, do we still need the Mark Kermodes and Brian Sewells or this world? Are the critics going to be killed by ease of media access?

Hundreds of channels in crystal-clear digivision, and I can only procrastinate about the stuff I want to see, even while I’m seeing it.

Charlie Brooker, 2001

On the first point, which I’m calling ‘abundant procrastination’ as it makes my post sound smarter than they usually do, I can imagine the joy with which the creators of Sky television, Spotify or any other media platform had when they imagined endless choice.

‘Cor blimey, people will never have to sit through a programme they don’t like – HIGH FIVE!

Fictional product designer at Sky – let’s call him Pete. Pete is high-fiving Sally.

Sadly, I don’t feel Pete’s joy. I feel lost. I can’t sleep, I want something to occupy my brain but my brain wants to wander, to see what repeats of Dog the Bounty Hunter I maybe haven’t seen, or what old hip hop videos MTV might be playing. At work, I want music to help me write this blog post. I want something beat-driven, inspirational even. Not my brain. My brain wants something slightly different. My brain forces me from iTunes to SoundCloud – maybe there’s a remix of this track which i’d prefer 7% more. Fuck my brain.

The depressing thing is that I’m 30 and I feel like this. I’ve lived through four channels, through saving up for months for one videogame, through recording the Top 40 on cassette and expertly avoiding the talky bits.

I’m not one of these future-kids, tapped into the meedja’s in ways we cannot even fathom. Sure, they may develop some kind of mega-brain-pattern that will allow them to deal with copious amounts of media without going mental, or they may just go mental. We may soon be fighting off armies of tweens, foaming at the mouth in search of JUST ONE MORE BIEBER SLOWDOWN MIX! Imagine that? And they’ll be taller than us with better diets and cooler hair. Shit :(

Not sure where I’m going with this so I’ll move on to point two.

If we can access such a broad array of content with such ease, instantly consuming movies bootlegged on YouTube, albums streamed on the Guardian site, do we need smart people telling us which is the best movie or the best album?

I’d normally say yes, critics (and curators) have never played a more important role, helping shepherd the mouth-breathers through mountains of media manure. But maybe we don’t them? Maybe we will become a nation of gung-ho content consumers, endlessly ploughing through stuff, occasionally settling on stuff we might like, but quickly moving on.

Social media is already eroding the official role of the critic. I’m much more likely to listen to a playlist of music put together by my friend Tom than I am listen to Pitchfork. Likewise a film recommendation from a smart Twitter friend is always noted, where-as critic qoutes on movie posters are treated with scorn and mistrust – PR-polished bullshit to be ignored.

Again, I have no real solution or end-goal in this observation. Maybe my brain is mashed by too many terabytes of content? What do you think?

Flickr image used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user ilovemypit.

This post was filed under Current work, Data, Working culture Comments are currently closed.


  1. Paul Hutchings

    Two things on choice. First, it’s hell for a maximiser (which is you)

    Second, think of decision-making like credit in a bank account: the more decisions you make, the harder it becomes until you’re overdrawn and you just can’t make any more:

    Posted 23rd August 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  2. Edward

    Thanks for that video Paul, very interesting :)

    Posted 23rd August 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink