Boris Smus

interaction engineering

The end of endings

Despite the obnoxious title, this a16z podcast was unusually insightful.

One big theme in the podcast can be summarized as an end of endings: a trend away from one story with a coherent, finite arc, towards something neverending. Amorphous TV shows like Lost, as well as Hollywood's discovery that a coherent franchise like Star Wars can be milked for many more dollars are examples of this. The stats backs it up: Hollywood moved from 10% of the hits of the 90s being sequels to 50% today, as can be seen in the box office data. Looking at TV shows through the same lens, each show is a one hour long movie, followed by tens of sequels. And successful franchises aim to immerse their fans (especially kids) into their universe with figurines, games, lunch boxes, bed sheets.

The end of endings also shows up in user interfaces, and is epitomized by the infinite scroller. Millions of souls fixate on the next pretty picture, the next baby picture, the next outrage. Entertainment that never ends!

This is interesting in the context of attention. In the realm of meditation, the challenge is to focus on something mundane, like your breath. In the realm of entertainment, the challenge is to snap out of an immersive world carefully constructed to consume your attention for as long as possible.