As we move into this new and very modern new year, it offers a fitting time to gaze into the crystal ball an ponder the future of entertainment. The rapid advance of digital technology suggests a very different landscape than the one we have known.
Many experts and “futurists” have been pondering this question, and a plethora of conferences and gatherings have explored the topic. In the end, at this point, I’ll posit that we can’t yet know many things about what will come as the interaction of the human psyche and technology – a topic for many works of entertainment well before this now highly technological juncture – rapidly progresses.
My view is a mix of both encouraging and dyspeptic. As the tools of creation become ever more accessible if not democratized, there’s an opportunity to break down the stranglehold that large media companies have had over entertainment. But don’t expect them to crumble silently; their fiscal might will still seek to control what entertains us and seduce creators into their systems with the allure of a big quick payday.
Over the next decade I imagine that cable television delivery will be integrated into the Internet. The proliferation of portable personal computing devices like laptops, pads and tablets, smartphones and even of late wrist-worn instruments will increase accessibility. But at what human cost? People’s overuse of cell phones and the like in public situations has already become a source of both conflict and disengagement from larger communities. Will this foster even greater modern anomie and alienation? Or will the rise of digital social networks create a smaller and more integrated world? I fear the former, and any answers to the latter seem unclear.
The notion that creative works are “content” has already had what I feel is a damaging effect on both the quality of entertainment and information as well as its value in the marketplace and the respect the public has for it. This also has it impact on the concept of copyright and the ownership of one’s creative products.
There are those who favor an open source world, and for the most part I am not among them even if I appreciate being able to write this on the free Open Office software rather than having to purchase Microsoft Word the last time I upgraded my computer. But as a writer/creator it is vital to me that those of us who create works are able to protect it from appropriation. The way the Internet has opened up direct channels to consumers allows creators to bypass corporations and market themselves directly. But at the same time it has created a culture – fostered by the piracy of music and movies – where too many people feel no compunctions about consuming creative works with remunerating the owners.
This brave new world – allusion intended – is rife with such double-edged swords. Easier and cheaper access to digital tools for creating musical and visual works is in theory a noble concept. However, the result has been far more opening the floodgates to a tidal wave or mediocrity and downright crap than it has enabling the talented yet ignored to break through. And too often I have witnessed how all the chaff and static created by this free, open and accessible marketplace has made it even harder for some very talented people to reach an audience and make a living with their art.
In this new marketplace, marketing and promotion are more vital than ever. It’s maybe not a rule but certainly a tendency that artistic personalities are often the least adept at that. And those who can get the most attention too often overshadow those whose creative endeavors are the most notable. Hence there is still an opening for media companies both in the old school and adept at the new modalities to exploit creativity in both the positive and negative senses in the world.
In the end, it seems likely that entertainment consumption will be more personalized and narrowcasted, yet also more interactive. But will the latter foster greater and deeper human contact and exchange? The jury is still out as far as I’m concerned. And it seems to me that we may well lose that valuable component of entertainment as a shared collective experience.
We are at both an exciting time of great potential as well as one that gives me great pause for its effects on humanity and community. I’m not one of those who claims to see what the future may bring and most of those who do could still be highly mistaken.
One thing is clear: The times they are a-changin’ more so than ever before. What will result is maybe not anyone’s guess. The future of entertainment will be very different indeed, and I will predict that surprises good, bad and mixtures of both are in the offing.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2014
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