Culture is future » Innovation and digital

11.15.2011

DEBATES 2011 - Prescription, by Zeus ! by Thomas Paris

The Greeks said that thunder resulted from the Zeus’s anger... If meteorology is probably less poetic nowadays, it offers a more detailed understanding of heavens’ whims.

Similarly, the early days of the digital economy of cultural creations are influenced by several myths, which are now to be exceeded to re-highlight the fundamental notion of prescription: the myths of the objectivity of the value of cultural creations, of neutrality of technical objects and personalization of choices. According to the first, a cultural work has an intrinsic value that its availability is sufficient to reveal. In this perspective, the interest of digital would be to let the public make his own choices without subjective intermediary, by allowing the equal availability of all the works. The second assumes that the various web sites (iTunes, Deezer, Dailymotion, but also Google ...) that provide access to cultural offer are based on a principle of neutrality, in the way that they put forward a particular creation, while, of course, the algorithms orchestrating which artwork is highlighted on those websites, building up the home page when you connect, involve biases. The third, related to personalization, stipulates that digital can concretize an ideal world in which every individual may be offered a specific cultural offer; websites, and algorithms supporting those, intending to refine in an objective way the relationship between individuals and artworks.

These three myths are extremely present in the visions that govern the foundation of many startups in the world of cultural creations on the Internet.

But the notion of culture presupposes, if not a universality, at least a conventionalism. The hyperbolic shape of the long tail - which refers to the existence of star products and reflects the fact that 80% of revenue comes from 20% of production - is structural and based on a necessary shared hierarchy of values. In culture this ranking has always been determined by the preeminence of individual choices, whether those of publishers who identify the books to be produced, or those of other prescribers such as bookstores, record stores or critiques... In ancient cultural industries…ten years ago, oracles imposed their views: they were known as producers, publishers, record dealers... The phenomenon of prescription is a predominant dimension of the cultural economy. The digital does not question it, but is changing the forms and consequences. Entrust communities with editorial choices, as do companies like MyMajorCompany, or algorithms with the choice of programming, as does Pandora, constitute different forms of prescription, not more neutral than the ones based on individual choice. There is an issue today, if we want to find ways to "predict the weather for years to come" in terms of culture on the Internet, to analyze it and its effects. It is essential to understand how these new forms will affect consumption, and hence cultural offer. Understanding how the negotiation of the individual in favor of the large number won’t necessarily favor audacity and novelty; how the monopolization of prescription in favor of unlikely technical neutrality driven by a very small number of actors will not be favorable to diversity. Understanding how the evolution of prescription is related to the acceleration of cultural creations’ life...

Thomas Paris