Thinking about songs, I asked myself … if the average 3-minute length has any reason for existence beyond the fact that that’s what could fit on the available piece of vinyl back in the day.
What kinds of fantastic and exciting new forms could emerge? Novels that never end? Albums that are essentially one track? (I think Prince and Eno both have tried this.) Pay-as-you-go blog posts? Songs that are like audiobooks, with hundreds of stanzas that take four hours to take in? Short-form TV series, with shows under 20 minutes in length? Videogames that tap into the data you generate, so that they tailor themselves to your likes and dislikes? Or maybe they will feature you as the protagonist, based on the cloud of data you trail and leave behind?
This quote excites me, not just because it paints a fascinating future for content, but because some of this is already emerging. Mike Oldfield’s Music of the Spheres – a one track album, despite what the track listing says – came out in 2008. Geek and Sundry – a Youtube channel that’s employing significant actors like Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day – have recently started releasing episodes of Caper, a ten minute episodic Youtube show. Cory Doctorow (writing Makers) and John Scalzi (writing The Human Division) have both released stories in episodes in exactly the way Byrne mentions, where the books were/will be later published as full novels.
Now that the internet gives us access to the long tail of content (and gives content producers access to the long tail of audiences), far more of these ‘niche’ content styles are finding customers with the cash to sustain their craft, rather than suiting their craft to ‘standard’ consumption styles. (Though it’s worth contrasting this with an increasing amount of clickbait).
There’s also an increasing number of people trialing new content styles like transmedia (content that extends across a range of media types that each support the story/idea in different ways) – and demolishing the expectations associated with specific platforms as they go. Pieces like Ingress defy definition. It is in many ways a game, but it combines with Niantic Project as a written story and a collection of short film pieces, all of which integrate across the world and have been developing over almost 18 months.
These fictions and fantasies come together as very real proof that a future where content dictates form isn’t far off. For some major creators, it’s already here.