The fate of the book review in the age of the algorithm

Christian Lorentzen in Harper’s:

It is a commonplace that we live in a time of political polarization and culture war, but if culture is considered not in terms of left and right but as a set of attitudes toward the arts, then, at least among people who pay attention to the arts, we live in an era that cherishes consensus. The first consensus is that ours is an age of plenty. There is so much to watch, to hear, to see, to read, that we should count ourselves lucky. We are cursed only by too many options and too little time to consume all the wonderful things on offer. The cultural consumer (Alex or Wendy) is therefore best served by entities that point them to the right products. Find the right products, and you can undergo an experience you can share with your friends, even the thousands of them you’ve never met. Of course, individual people have preferences and interests, so filters, digital or human, will be required. Everyone will have favorites. What’s superfluous is the negative opinion. The negative opinion wastes Alex and Wendy’s time.

No doubt a consumerist mode of engagement with the arts has always been with us. Its current manifestation mimics the grammar of social media: the likable, the shareable, the trending, the quantifiable, the bite-size. It is no surprise that this set of gestures has become dominant. What jars is the self-satisfaction expressed by people who should know better.

More here.