(above, art created with some effort by the author, which hopefully requires some effort to fully appreciate)
Most probably I'm not the first to think this, but hasn't it occurred to you that subscription models for content are actually making you less conscious of what you see / listen / watch? And, in some occasions, make you enjoy it less?
When in a subscription model we talk much about consuming content. However, in a model where you have to purchase every piece of content on its own, I think it's much easier to talk about enjoying or experiencing that piece of content. In a subscription model, the focus is on the service itself and the convenience it brings (which I don't want to lessen here, I love the fact that I can listen to a vast catalogue of music at the tap of a finger). But when we access the content from this perspective of just "filling in" our time (playlists, recommended TV shows, etc.) we don't make the effort of caring for what we experience, not as much as when we make a very conscious choice about the content we want to experience.
It probably has to do with the fact that actually some friction goes a long way towards feeling the reward from whatever action we are taking. I recently read this academic article about the cost and value of effort, if you are interested in a serious digression on this topic I recommend you to read it as it has very interesting reflections on this plus many references to back the points expressed therein.
In any case, this has been long researched and it is at the root of a myriad of things. You can see it at play in initiatives like co-creation workshops where participants, having to work, to make an effort towards a common goal, end up feeling much more connected to the result than if hiring someone to do the work for them. It is true for those self-assembly pieces of furniture that you proudly look at when finished no matter if they are, well, not quite perfectly assembled. When you learn to cook a new recipe and are so proud to invite your friends over vs. ordering from even a good restaurant. When you save to be able to buy something you really want vs. getting it for free (a well thought present is also highly valued and a delight to receive, but take note that there is lots of effort there on the side of the one thinking about the present - and there is also much joy on the act of giving since it does involve an effort too).
Now, there has been a push to create seamless experiences in all industries. To make things easy for consumers, because getting consumers to, well, consume more projects higher sales. But what about the net effect on those consumers wellness? Are we creating products to sell them, or to help someone with whatever they are doing?
I see a growing interest and maturing knowledge from large corporations and small companies alike around adopting an approach closer to people's needs and people's wellbeing. The "customer-centric" approach so touted by too many corporation presentations but seldom fully understood (and typically poorly executed), versus a product-centric attitude where what's important is what you build and what's important is to sell it. In this regard, virtually all streaming services place their focus in their product, in creating a fluid service that places things right when and where you need them so you don't have to think.
Not having to think detracts personal presence from our doings. In a way, automates us. In a way, robs us of part of our emotions. I am missing a customer-emotion-centric approach, where we build products and services to truly accompany people, which necessarily means accompanying them with their emotions.
I have felt this very clearly in the past two months as I have been publishing, selling and buying art at the wonderful Hic Et Nunc platform. This whole text comes from just one single thought: I feel very connected with the pieces I have bought or even collected for free, so much more connected than with any "like" I may have thrown around in social media platforms where I also see artists' artworks. Again, don't get me wrong: I am not against such platforms, I do think they have a function and an utility. I get to know about artists, I discover content that I would probably don't find otherwise. But at the same time, the very way such platforms are designed pushes the consumer to keep looking for more, instead of taking the time to savour and palate this one piece I have just found. Am I too focused on discovering more, vs indulging in the pleasure of experiencing what I already have?
Streaming platforms are a bit like dating apps. You go on an endless stream of dates sometimes without a chance to actually get to know the other person properly, because there are so many other people in the platform that might be "better". Better for what? We are all full of nuances and no one is perfect or an absolute "best", not even partially "better" in absolute terms. Since it's all subjective, because our own experiencing self is a subjective individual, there is actually a danger in getting lost in all the noise of endless lists of recommendations / playlists / people who watched this watched that / articles bought along with / etc., because none of those lists actually picks up your true subjectivity. But sometimes we blindly enlist ourselves in this quest for the next piece of content / product that will somehow meet our subjective needs, only to lose sight progressively of the shore we actually wanted (or needed) to swim to.
I recently have seen advertisements for streaming art services. You sign up, connect your Smart TV or other display, and choose among the thousands of artworks / styles / artists. For some reason this creates much dissonance to me. While I do appreciate any effort to make art reach more people, there is something to this that somehow devalues the art within. At the same time, I am exploring how to build a similar service to make art appear in public displays, reusing existing digital signage infrastructure. But in your own home... things should be more personal. And, to me, more personal requires an effort.
(above, Lucas & Arthur Jussen – Bach: 'Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit', BWV 106: 2a (Transcr. Kurtág), Live recording – 25 June 2019, Konzerthaus Dortmund From the album ‘Bach’)
To me it's an infinite joy to just listen to one of the late 70s albums by Genesis, for example, even whey they may be a bit difficult in some passages, having the patience to understand what's in there. Listen to all the things they had to say musically. Appreciate the nuances. Play this piano transcription for 4 hands of Gottes Zeit Ist Die Allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106 by Johann Sebastian Bach, pay attention to it. Look at a painting in an exhibition by Emil Nolde, Sandra Delaunay, so many others, and stare to it for a while letting it move the cranks, light up nooks deep inside myself (what is that going on anyway?). Admire in wonder the works I am collecting in Hic Et Nunc (click on "collection" and be patient, there is much to see and takes a while to load).
(above, Landing by @Len_Chi, collected on Hic Et Nunc, something it took me effort to buy and effort to let it sink - but it pays off. There are still some original, "signed by the author" copies available here).
I am sure the joy in all that comes from the subjective individual having to make an effort. Going to a gallery is an effort that tells you that the artworks are a priori actually worth your time and your walking there. Picking consciously an album by Genesis, Bach or the band you need right there and then is an effort. Purchasing art in Hic Et Nunc because it speaks to you rather than just tapping the heart icon of the same artwork on Instagram or Twitter is an effort.
An effort that pays you back in unmeasurable ways.
PS: as I write this, I am listening to a Spotify playlist "made for me" by some mix of human - algorithmic curation, which is totally fine. Please understand that there is a space for everything, obviously. But let's not forget that nice Aristotelian principle of the intermediate as a virtue. This text is just a vote for equilibrium and making conscious choices.