Thursday, September 8, 2011

The future of criticism.

Each day we get up, we decide what to wear, where to get our morning coffee, we decide how to walk to work, which way to drive, what bus to take. We decide what work to do first, what emails to answer, who to call back. We decide what to eat for lunch. Healthy or the burger? We wonder, should I work out? We make plans later with friends, where should we go, what should we eat, what time. Then we do some more work, make some more decisions, write some more emails. Our lives are full of choice. We have become a society used to having things exactly the way we want. And so, because we want this choice we are forced to constantly making decisions, from the small ones to the biggies.

We have so many places to get an opinion to inform our choices and I'm curious, who do you listen to? Who do you take the time to read? Is it the New York Times, is it a blog, is it a friend on Facebook or Twitter? How do you keep up with the hundreds of places you can look for a review or an opinion? I know I need help navigating my daily decisions, but how do we filter and choose?

Last night I attended the Riggio Forum at The New School. The series is curated by Greil Marcus and last night he was in conversation with A. O. Scott, the chief film critic for the New York Times. Scott is working on a book about criticism as a vocation. He spent most of the hour talking about the crisis in todays print culture and whether our society still has a need for professional criticism. I think it's pretty clear that we're all wondering what our newspaper of the future is going to look like. At least I am, but I hadn't given the topic much thought until hearing his dialogue. Today, as the conversation simmers in my head, it's potential impact is larger than I want to admit.

A few weeks ago I read an essay in the Sunday Times about decision fatigue. Bear with me because I think they're connected. We have so many hundreds of decisions to make every day, and as the day goes by our minds quickly lose their ability to make well considered choices and we start taking short cuts. Knowing this, wouldn't we want some help? These critics, opinion makers with big and small names, help us make decisions. Even if it's just to help us pick a movie. Have you looked at how many possible films we could see? There's going to an actual theatre, there's Netflix, Hulu, Cable, On Demand, and so on and so on, we've gotten to a place where almost everything is available to us at any time, how could we possibly be able to know it all.

The night ended in part on a conversation about A. O. Scott hypothetically reviewing The Smurfs movie. And let's say he didn't like it, but I did. And, whose opinion was more important. Well, that's what's so great about our new non-print print culture. Online we can have that dialogue and we can spar about the validity of the movie. There's a place for all of us. I hope when we get to that nebulous future we've figured out a way to reward well written blogs as well as supporting local papers enough so they can thrive. I'd love to see them all succeed.

I'm not sure how hard he's working on his new book, but for a man that does professional criticism for a living I'm sure it's taking up a lot of headspace if not necessarily word count.

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