Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Smart Agent

In the old days, there were only a handful of channels by which you could watch shows on t.v. They showed classic movies, and I got the vast majority of my early film history from watching whatever they showed in the afternoon on the weekends ("Attack of the Mushroom People") or late at night ("In A Lonely Place"). You had to choose from a very limited list what you most wanted to watch.

"I hear Hitchcock's a good director. Maybe I should check that out."

Now that there's 100s of stations and 1000s more on the internet, it's easy for the new generations to see what they want to. Too easy.

They won't end up discovering Nicholas Ray because it's the only thing on. And they'll never make it a point to sit through Orson Welles because it's only shown once a decade again. Infinite access to all things makes those things less valuable. It's supply vs. demand; scarcity creates value. Now you don't have to "earn" the experience. Anything is called up at a click.

Now such films aren't even shown. Sure, Bogart's films are still out there. But they're lost - absolutely buried in all the other options out there. The good stuff used to be "pushed" towards me. Now, I have to "pull" it to me if I want to encounter it.

So the old classics are lost in plain sight, undetected in the stacks of libraries - online and physical. (It's not enough that the negatives of the films lost in the Universal fire are stored elsewhere - what good do they do when there are no accessible prints in existence?)

The only way their secrets will be revealed is if the new audiences are directed to them, by search bots - smart agents - that collect your personal interests and extrapolate what you would be interested in, what you should be looking at.

In the www age, we need smart filters to push pertinent info to us more than ever. How many times have you found yourself lost while trying to look something up online? It's like being in a library that's been hit by an earthquake - with all the books in a pile on the floor with no way to find what you want.

Our cultural memory is diluted. Used to be they'd show old films on t.v. all Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Now it's infomercials (why give it away for free?).

Which means, 90% of people under the age of 25 has never seen a frame of black-and-white film.

Those cool MTV videos don't count.

Mediators - teachers, mentors, or coaches - can lead the new generations towards what they should watch. Archives and museums should continue to curate art worth knowing, not just the new and the now, but the influential, the historical, the unique.

Otherwise, the future custodians of culture, infinitely distracted by the latest Hollywood gimcracks, the newest handheld technologies, the firewire downloads, will never know what was and what should be.

Having it available isn't enough. These kids need to be slapped around a little, have some sense knocked into them. They need to be told what's what.

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