How Netflix affects what we watch and who we are – and it’s not just the algorithm

Netflix’s dystopian Korean drama Squid Game is the streaming platform’s biggest series launch ever111 million people watch at least two minutes of an episode.

How did so many people watch the same show out of the thousands of shows available on Netflix globally? easy answer an algorithm – a computer program that offers us personalized recommendations on a platform based on our and other users’ data.

Streaming platforms like Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime are without a doubt. reshaped the way we consume the media, primarily by massively increasing the amount of movies, music and TV available to the audience.

How do we deal with so many options? Services like Netflix use algorithms with direct our attention organizing content in certain aspects and keeping us active on the platform. As soon as we open the application, the personalization processes begin.

Our cultural landscape is now automated rather than merely a product of our previous culture. experiences, backgrounds and social environments. These algorithms not only respond to our tastes, but also to shape and influence them.

But focusing too much on the algorithm misses another important cultural shift that’s taking place. To make all this content manageable, streaming platforms have introduced new ways for us to organize culture. The categories used to categorize culture have always been important, but with the flow they have acquired new forms and powers.

Classifying our flavors

Streaming possibilities are a new “classifier imagination”. I coined this term to describe how he looks at the world. genres, tags and categories helps shape our own identities and sense of place in the world.

Whether you discovered a handful of genres 50 years ago through friends or by going to the record store, the advent of streaming brought classification and genre to our media consumption on a large scale. Spotify just finished five thousand genres of music. Listeners also find their own genre tags when creating playlists. As we consume music, movies and television, we are constantly fed with new labels and categories.

Thanks to these categories, our tastes can be more specific and eclectic, and our identities can be more fluid. These personalized recommendations and algorithms can also shape our tastes. My personalized end-of-year review from Spotify told me that “room psychic,” a category I’ve never heard of, is my second favorite genre. I found myself researching to discover what it was and the artists connected to it.

These hyper-specific categories are created and stored in metadata, which is code behind the scenes supporting platforms like Spotify. They form the basis of personalized recommendations and help us decide what to consume. If we think of Netflix as a vast archive of TV and movies, the way it’s organized through metadata decides what’s explored through it.

on Netflix, thousands of categories It ranges from familiar film genres such as horror, documentary and romance to overly specialized “1970s camp foreign films”.

While Squid Game has been publicly labeled with the genres “Korean, TV thrillers, drama,” there are thousands of more specific categories in Netflix’s metadata that shape our consumption. The personalized homepage uses algorithms to bring you specific shows as well as specific genre categories. Because most of it is in the metadata, we may not be aware of which categories are available to us.

Get the Squid Game – the way to get a big launch may be partly due to algorithmic promotion of widely watched content. Its success is an example of how algorithms can amplify what is already popular. As with social media, once a trend starts to catch on, algorithms can draw even more attention to it. Netflix categories do this too, telling us which shows are trending or popular in our area.

Who is in control?

As everyday media consumers, we are still at the limit of what we understand about the workings and potential of these recommendation algorithms. We must also consider some of the potential consequences of the classificatory imagination.

The categorization of culture can shut us down to certain categories or voices – this can be limiting and even harmful, as is the spread of misinformation on social media.

Ours social connections they are also deeply shaped by the culture we consume, so these labels can ultimately affect who we interact with.

The positives are clear – personalized recommendations from Netflix and Spotify help us find exactly what we like among an unfathomable number of options. The question is, who decides what the labels are, what is put in these boxes, and therefore what we watch, listen to and read?

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