Channel quantity and quality

Years ago, when there were a couple dozen television stations, someone [1] speculated that when we got more channels we’d also get better content.

The argument was that people are more similar in their base interests than in their more refined interests. Therefore if there are only a few channels, they will all appeal to our basic instincts. But if you have hundreds of channels, there is the potential for a few of the channels to offer more refined content. In short, the prediction was that more channels would lead to better content.

What about now? Not only do we have hundreds of television channels, you could say we have millions of channels since we have millions of people producing content online, some of it quite varied. But you could also say in a sense we’re back to three channels. But instead of ABC, CBS, and NBC, we have Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. And when you don’t have many channels, you aim your content at the amygdala.


[1] I don’t remember who said that. Maybe it was George Gilder. Sounds like something he would have said.

5 thoughts on “Channel quantity and quality

  1. I don’t think quality and quantity are linked in that way(we got more channels we’d also get better content) when we look at complex organic systems.

    When we look at synthetic systems we may come with some general rules that link both terms, allowing us to make statements about their relations and development. Such systems tend to increase their entropy allowing us to make predictions or(depending on system complexity) isolate solution spaces in which trends can be built/plotted

    Looking at organic systems on the other side, the observers are in constant mutation which redefines both their interface with the system and the interference with other observers. Since we can not map/analyse a multi-dimensional analogue system without at least partial transformation into discrete sub-system(think of human language as an example) we end up with constantly changing number of observers that share overlapping mutation domains. This creates an elastic environment that is in constant flux. In such environment, system entropy does not converge to anything both in regards of the data exchange and observer-system/observer interfaces.
    Certain events may increase that entropy, but other will decrease it. We may percieve the partial effects of certain events in semi-synthetic parts of the mutation spaces, but in reality complex organic systems render events as systems themselves and not as isolated entities so we end with rather chaotic response chains(fueling more mutations both in the affected observers and the mutation domains they occupy).
    That behavior puts the system under constant pressure, which moves the center of gravity(computed from a clustered vector field where each vector represents a content consumer-provider domain) away from content generation(as a solution for the consumer-provider imbalance) towards the data exchange model. That momentum constantly evolves the system by either introducing partial solutions(sub-systems like a specialized tv channel) within the main system or super-systems(like facebook for example).

    This is where you see the 3 channels you mentioned. Although you approach them as channels, those are actually frameworks or super-systems that are redefining the context of the base media in an attempt to balance the content consumption momentum. They do not redefine the concept of information/content, that was done by the introduction of the information systems decades ago, but the way it is distributed.
    In a way you have an incredible improvement both in quality and quantity, but at the same time both terms got redefined along the way leading us to more of the same shit, mostly because when we drive the line down to the bone we are the same shitheads.
    If we approach the matter from an economical angle we may draw a line from the statement: “the only quality of money is their quantity” to the current state of the mass media(digital frameworks included) and considering the business model of both content distribution platforms and content providers, we may say transform the upper statement into:
    “the only quality of content is its quantity”

  2. I mean, from my point of view, we very clearly have much higher quality stuff now. It’s not even close.

    There’s the “close-to-old-world” stuff like TV being produced by Netflix, which is probably still better than 20 years ago. But more importantly, there’s YouTube channels and podcasts which are much better, for exactly the reason hypothesized: you’ve got many filling very specific niches. For example, I subscribe to something like 7 channels on math and physics, which produce beautiful explanations of interesting math at all levels, from “pop sci” stuff like Numberphile, to “sometimes real proofs included” stuff like Mathologer, to “full on proof-based stuff, but with beautiful animations” like 3Blue1Brown. Then of course there’s actual lectures from places like MIT, if they count.

    And that’s just the math niche. And not including things like math blogs, podcasts, etc.

    In other interests of mine, you can find similar cornucopias of content. Interesting in Rubik’s Cubes and speedcubing? I subscribe to dozens of channels. Interested in politics? There are many, *many* channels and podcasts across all the spectrum. Interested in history? Law? Whatever you want, there’s an *active community*, often of amateurs, producing great content around it.

    We are living in the golden age of content, IMO.

  3. Depends on how you measure it. The best now is clearly better than the best before. The average now may be worse.

  4. Depends on how you measure it. The best now is clearly better than the best before. The average now may be worse.

    Agreed but it’s not like we’re forced to watch a random (averaged) sample of things. We all get to pick our favorites (admittedly we don’t do this perfectly but we do it pretty well). The best is probably close to the “right” metric assuming we’re trying to answer “Is the tv I’m watching better now than it would have been 20 years ago?”. I can think of other questions we might want to be asking (“Is tv taking away too much time from other things” for example). But I don’t see a reason why we’d want to answer “Is the average tv content better or worse (for me) now”.

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