Recommendation engines and "lean-back" media by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow
In William Gibson's 1992 novel "Idoru," a media executive describes her company's core audience: "Best visualized as a vicious, lazy, profoundly ignorant, perpetually hungry organism craving the warm god-flesh of the anointed. Personally I like to imagine something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth…no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote. Or by voting in presidential elections." It's an astonishingly great passage, not just for the image it evokes, but for how it captures the character of the speaker and her contempt for the people who made her fortune. It's also a beautiful distillation of the 1990s anxiety about TV's role in a societal "dumbing down," that had brewed for a long time, at least since the Nixon-JFK televised debates, whose outcome was widely attributed not to JFK's ideas, but to Nixon's terrible TV manner.