In a sense, everything in this blog is a reaction to a certain bit of industry common-wisdom which says that the on-demand future is about giving consumers 'what they want'. My central intuition is that there is something wrong with this premise--not because there may be reasons why consumers' wishes shouldn't be granted, but rather because I find the notion of consumers who know what they want rather simplistic.
Specifically, there is a lot that happens before a consumer knows what she wants, and media have a lot to do with this. The question 'what do you want' often has no simple answer; and while search engines can take care of the process once such an answer exists, the battle for attention takes place before that point.
The issue is a tricky one, and I don't claim to have the answers. This blog is little more than an extended exploration of the issues involved.
In this connection, I have been reading some passages from Hegel, who I think has a lot to say here.
Impulse must be distinguished from mere appetite. The latter... is something single and seeks only what is single for a single, momentary satisfaction. Impulse, on the other hand... embraces a series of satisfactions, hence is a whole, a universal. (Philosophy of mind, par 473A, quoted in Dudley)
To translate this to on-demand media, appetite can be seen as the desire for a particular piece of content--e.g. for The Thin Red Line or Caravan-- while impulse is just the desire for a war movie or classic rock or Van Morrison.
Hegel is interested in how impulses translate into appetites, and associates the former to basic animal instinct and the latter to an intrinsically human faculty--the faculty of choosing. Appetites are about 'universals' (i.e. generic concepts such as war movies) and, I think, these are only learned as practices (i.e. recurring patterns of action) which have their own practicing communities. More generic practices include watching movies and (more generically) watching television.
I don't know if Hegel would agree with this, but I think the relationship goes both ways: impulses evolve into appetites, but appetites (i.e. desires for specific things) can only arise once we've been initiated into a practice, i.e. once we are aware (empirically, not intellectually) of universals--we can't fancy watching The Thin Red Line if we've never watched a war movie, or if we've never watched a movie.
Some interesting questions appear at this point. What does it mean to fancy watching a movie we've never watched before? What would we consider a satisfactory experience? Do we hope for a satisfaction similar to some we've enjoyed with similar movies before? How do I learn to like movies, i.e. how am I initiated into the practice of watching them? What if this movie, while being part of the genre, gives us something entirely new in addition to that? And if I have to pay a fee just to try, what will make me take a risk? How is impulse awoken? Does it translate into appetite straight away, or (especially if there is money involved) will a long time pass before I know what I want? (This, of course, is key to designing navigation--we may need to allow for a few days to pass). What role will my community play in this? And why do I end up consuming? Is it just about the 'single, momentary satisfaction' or is there something else, perhaps a sense of belonging that I seek by participating in a community?