On the Feedback Loop

“They’ve done all their research,” I said, “and they’ve kept only the features people said they liked best. But somehow there’s nothing to read in there.”

“We’re a marketing-driven culture,” Mr. Magundi said. “The marketers who decide what goes into popular newspapers and magazines want certainty. They want to know they can sell their product. So they very scientifically track and survey their readers to find out which things they like best, and then give them only those things. They keep refining, throwing more and more of the less popular stuff out and adding more and more of the things that get high marks in surveys. They listen to the people, and they give the people only what the people say they want.

“But the problem is that magazines and newspapers help form popular culture. If the things that are forming popular culture will only respond to popular culture, what do we have?

“Now, you know what happens when you get a microphone too close to the loudspeaker. The signal from the microphone comes out the loudspeaker and goes into the microphone and comes out the loudspeaker and goes into the microphone, and round and round, until you get a feedback loop, which is just a high-pitched squeal that makes you want to cover your ears. And that’s why you can’t find anything to read anymore. You can go to a newsstand and see millions of words, but all they add up to is a high-pitched squeal, because the whole publishing industry is caught in a gigantic feedback loop.”

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