A dialogue I could recently have had (but didn't):

"So, what did you do last night?"

"Um, I watched this black-and-white film about a depressive epileptic. In the end, he kills himself."

"Boy, that sounds like fun!"

I once asked a friend of mine how he had liked that play he had seen. He replied that he hadn't enjoyed it much while he was there but that he had thought so much about it afterwards that it had definitely been worthwhile. I had to think of that after I had seen Control, a biopic about Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, who was a depressive epileptic. While I was seeing it, I kept thinking that Mr. Curtis's life, while more interesting than most people's, hadn't been that interesting after all. But afterwards, I kept thinking about it much more than about films that I had enjoyed more while they had been on. I don't mean "thinking about it" in a this-film-really-made-me-think-about-the-question-of-free-will kind of way; rather, my mind kept revisiting the unusual aesthetic experience. (I don't usually watch black-and-white films about depressive epileptics.)

Insofar as this generalizes, it means that originality, in and by itself, yields utility.

I grew up at the time when there were three TV channels. I watched a lot of crap. But I also came across some stuff that I wouldn't have watched if there had been 30 channels and which I really liked. Unusual stuff.

The Internet gives people an unprecedented amount of choice. If you get aroused by looking at pictures of beer bottles, but only if they're black-and-white pictures, you can probably find a forum where you can discuss your fetish. That's a good thing.

Not only that, but some Internet applications help you finding stuff that you're likely to like. Amazon suggests books that have been bought by people who bought the book you're buying. Last fm plays music for you that people who like your favourite bands like. In one way that's a good thing.

In another way, that's a bad thing. If you get your music only from last fm, you can listen to punk all day long, and chances are you're never going to learn about grunge, let alone breakbeat. Which you might have enjoyed.

Of course, the utility-from-originality gain must be weighed against the loss that you're going to suffer due to consuming stuff that, well, you just don't like. There's a logic behing what last fm and others do: If you like the Sex Pistols you are more likely to like The Clash than you are to like The Beatles. I guess the best recommendation here is to try out stuff that is a little bit unusual from time to time.

I believe the Internet has an effect similar to the last-fm effect in the realm of politics. Me, I like having my views challenged, but I think most people will seek information that confirms that they're right. (There are psychological experiments using nonrepresentative student samples which show this.) If you have Internet access, you can read blogs which confirm that it is right to be conservative (liberal, libertarian, whatever) all day long. It's not such a stretch to think that this makes people more certain that they're right. To emphasize, I do not mean that Internet access turns a moderate conservative into an extreme conservative, only that people have less doubts about being right. Which, in my book, is a bad thing.

I'd provide you with some data, but although there are many polls which ask people where they fit in on the left-right spectrum, I am not aware of any that ask people how certain they are that theirs is the right orientation.

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