Technology killed criticism. I can explain very specifically how this happened. Take Netflix, for example. On Netflix, every movie or TV show available on the site comes pre-rated for you. Netflix collects the data you’ve created in choosing movies and in telling Netflix what you thought about movies you’ve already watched. The company then use an algorithm that combines your data with data from other users in order to rate everything you haven’t seen according to your pre-established preferences. The system is not perfect. It doesn’t, and probably cannot, account for every quirk and oddity in the wonderfully complex individual human being. But in my experience, the system works very well, perhaps disturbingly well. The same system is used by Amazon to rate and suggest books for you. Pandora functions in a roughly similar way with music.

 

Never before has… More…

What concerns me about the literary apocalypse that everybody now expects — the at least partial elimination of paper books in favor of digital alternatives — is not chiefly the books themselves, but the bookshelf. My fear is for the eclectic, personal collections that we bookish people assemble over the course of our lives, as well as for their grander, public step-siblings. I fear for our memory theaters.

 There was a time when I thought I could do without much of one. As a student in college and graduate school, moving from room to room virtually every year, the desire to keep my possessions down to what could be stuffed into a Toyota Corolla overwhelmed the reptilian instinct to collect. That in itself became a pleasurable asceticism, and it suited my budget. As so often accompanies renunciation, I came to love the forbidden… More…