I saw this in the NYT yesterday: www.nytimes.com
Mr. Walk’s team meets weekly to discuss tweaks to YouTube’s software. During a recent meeting, a small group of engineers and user interface designers were brainstorming what might be the next big step in the site’s evolution: pages that would immediately begin playing a stream of clips tailored for a user, instead of offering lists of suggested videos. The idea is to push more videos at users in the hope of allowing them to abandon the keyboard and increasingly experience YouTube from the couch.
“On YouTube, every 45 seconds, you are stuck at a decision point,” Mr. Davidson said. “Any time there is a decision point, people may leave. We don’t want to take out the interactivity, but the default user experience should be a lot easier.”
We are used to thinking about consumerism in terms of the multiplication of choices. Communicative capitalism likewise relies on the equation of political choices with consumer choices via entertainment (opinion, interests, sports, betting, gambling, politics qua spectator sport on which we bet). Numerous critics (appearing as early as Thucydides) lament the sporting, speculative approach to politics, the sense that politics is a primarily a game, and a game that is fixed (what matters is behind the scenes). Debord attuned us to thinking in terms of the spectacle (and the conspiracy underlying it). The multiple choices are an illusion masking an underlying fixity: the fix is in, the game is up, or, its played between opponents for whom the rest of us are no more than pawns, food, feed.
It's rather different, I think, to find explicit emphasis on attempts to eliminate decisions, to wipe it out, to enrapture spectators so that we forget that we can just walk away (one reason why political strategies of refusal are not nothing). We are used to be told that freedom is choice, not that our decisions should be hidden from us, displaced from view.
On the phone in a hideous computer tree we keep answering, waiting, choosing options (last year I wasted 90 minutes for a free phone). It's hard to hang up. Once we are in, our inertial tendency is to stay in.
Decision points: in writing--ends of sentences, ends of paragraphs, ends of pages, ends of scenes, ends of arguments, ends of chapters. Both narrative and visual convention keeps us going, keeps us engaged, prevents us from thinking in terms of decision points (that's also part of the pleasure, the book that we can't put down). In film: primarily scenes but also angles--we can cut out when there's a cut. In formulaic films, we can guess that the beginning of a battle scene is a good time to go to the bathroom. Television: commercials. That's when we can leave; that's our decision point. That's when there are options.
When I was kid, our television only picked up three channels (although I loved playing with the antenna and the uhf dial, wondering if I could find secret messages). In between: white noise, dead air, static--it looked like the inside of a car in a snow storm. Turning from one network to another we passed through the white noise, the space where we were momentarily free from interpellation. No one was trying to sell us something, tell us something.
White noise was frightening, don't get me wrong. Poltergeist captured that to good effect (although if memory serves the effect is derivative of the Outer Limits). Were there subliminal messages? A pattern? It's as if from the beginning we had a hard time imaging a space free from messages, a space that wasn't telling us anything at all.
Perhaps because of our fear of noise, our fear of non-meaning, our fear of what it could mean to be a spectator with nothing to see or a being outside of interpellation, we stopped imagining dead air--remote controllers let us zap right past it. We could avoid messages we didn't want and dead air and quickly look for something that might detract us. We could easily find our own capture, that is, our own opportunity to be liberated once more from the dilemma of a decision. Remotes let us both convince ourselves of a kind of agency--we don't have to make ourselves available to every advertisement--and let us avoid the white noise of empty space, a space where we might have to let our minds rest, drift, or think.
VCR's: even better. No more white noise at all. Just the messages we wanted, when we wanted. But, when there isn't much to see, much worth recording, then we risk confronting decisions again. 800 channel cable and satellite tv helped. Digital eliminate even more of the empty, wasted space, the spaces where we might as little questions, reflect, or decide.
The promise of user generated content: we are all so creative, so empowered, so connected. It's all there--if you want it. The thing is, we lose the sense of wanting, of desire, because it's already there, filled in, no gap.
YouTube, though, thinks we are still at risk of deciding, thinking. The very abundance of options, of messages, of voices, has come through to the other side: excess and lack, two sides of the same phenomenon. So, now more than we can want will still be there, but now we won't have to think about what this might mean, we won't have to figure it out, think about it, or decide.
A kinder, simpler You Tube.
Ideal of the post-democratic multitude.