Golden Needles in Content Haystacks

In the 70s and 80s, if you missed a good film at the movie theatre, you practically had no chance to see it again. Television was restricted to a few hours every day in the evening. The government radio station, All India Radio was full of presenters who liked to slow life down to a trickle and film songs were only played with reluctance during a tiny sliver of time every week. So, you had two and a half stations to tune into or search for the slightly more peppy Radio Ceylon that people speak of with such nostalgia, you would think they were the biggest entertainers on earth. Neighbourhood lending libraries were full of sappy Mills&Boon romances and if you wanted thrillers, you had to choose from the rows of James Hadley Chase and Earl Stanley Gardner or Agatha Christie. Refined tastes were about access to PG Wodehouse and A J Cronin, unless you were into high brow classical literature. In which case, the government libraries or the British Council were more than happy to oblige.

Strike that now. You don’t have to watch a single bad series on TV, listen to a lousy song on the radio or sit through a single bad movie – if you so choose. You can take your pick of the Criterion Collection if you want some of the world’s best films that have won most conceivable awards. If you missed a film at the theatre, it’s no big deal. It will be there time and again on your TV channels, available for download on a torrent, or if you’re old fashioned, a DVD at the local store. Your music player now holds more music than studios used to have on their dusty shelves. Your ebook reader can download more books than the collection that people built over a lifetime. If you live in a metropolis, you probably can sample a new restaurant every weekend for the rest of your life. And if you like to travel, you can find a thousand new places to visit before you walk off into the sunset.

35 hours of video is uploaded every minute to YouTube. That’s 2,100 hours uploaded every 60 minutes, or 50,400 hours every day. Another way to break it down is if three of the major US networks were broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for the last 60 years, they still wouldn’t have broadcast as much content as is uploaded to YouTube every 30 days. Last year, the Apple store sold its 10 billionth song. There are over 90 billion photos on Facebook, with 200 million more being added every day. The virtual world has outgrown the physical one in more ways than we can imagine.

With all this content being generated much faster than we can hope to consume, even in our lifetime, we will get to be more discerning. The systems that will define the future are the ones that will pick out the precious needles from the data haystacks. Faced with oceans of choice, we will learn to value the ones that let us limit our decisions, not expand them