Back in 2006, a guy called Chris Anderson, now a robotics hobbyist but then editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, wrote a best-selling business prophecy. His book The Long Tail asserted that the near future of everything would be radically different from the present, still a “tyranny of lowest-common-denominator fare”. Technology, he said, would soon be refined to the point that it could reflect and appease the uniqueness of every human urge. Mass culture would become niche culture and we would each be free and motivated to define our shape beyond the cookie cutter.
We would see this transition first, he declared, in the consumption of entertainment. Inexpensive digital reproduction meant that a greater variety of cultural items could be more cheaply bought and that an era of “selling less of more” would create both a business and artistic renaissance. Using the company Amazon, then still largely a vendor of books, CDs and DVDs, as his starting point, he predicted a time where we could really be us. If you wanted to watch the cinema of Godard or read the Restoration drama of Aphra Benn, you could. Heck, you probably would.