Now we have so many – the song, the poem, the book, the movie, the TV show, as well as the email, the infographic, the blog, the tweet, the status update, the clip, the app, the game. Each has its own set of affordances – the possibilities presented by the properties of the thing. A song plucks at our heartstrings, in an almost physical way. The poem takes us out of our rational, everyday selves. The book gives us time to think deeply. The movie envelops us in its stories. The TV show lets us live with and revisit familiar beloved characters. In the same way do our more modern genres have their own set of affordances (and creative challenges as well – a potential topic for a whole other post).
We have so many genres today than we ever did before. We also have myriad permutations of genre combinations, e.g. the clip in the blog, the game that is almost a movie. The tyranny of genre is over. And they are more readily accessible than ever. Unlike the opera, a YouTube clip doesn’t require a $100 ticket and ballgown. Mass digitization, with the cost of bits dropping to near-zero, makes these new genres virtually free.
One side effect is that the competition between genres is becoming more efficient. Nearly every piece of work has some purpose, whether it be to convey, convince, evoke, or simply entertain. Creators will seek to optimize for that purpose. Most creators also seek an audience for their work, and with the increasing scarcity of attention, they will gravitate towards genres that – given the story or content “stuff” – offer the most net value to the audience (relative to the cost of their attention). As a result, songs are becoming catchier through science, TV shows are becoming more character-driven, books are becoming shorter, long-form journalism is being curated for quality, games are becoming more engaging.
Will this ever be perfect? No. But while the creator has more options among genres, the world has more options to shape the content as well. We see whole books summarized into essays disguised as reviews, with people reading these reviews in lieu of reading the book itself. People are watching long trailers instead of the whole movie, reading recaps instead of watching a TV episode, watching gameplay instead of playing it themselves, reading tweets from a conference instead of attending it. The market for content has more than one side.