Are Human Tastemakers Waging a Comeback?

THE phrase “we love you people” may have a new resonance: Apple’s purchase of Beats may mean Silicon Valley may be turning toward actual people as “curators” over the faceless algorithms it’s been using. Years into a process by which your bookstore or record store clerk found himself made obsolete by an Amazon recommendation, this is a rare victory for the human race in general and the creative class in particular. The catch is that for a technology company to be interested in you, you’ve got to be as famous as Dr. Dre.

In any case, this is the upshot of a New York Times story, “What the Beats Deal Says About Apple: It Loves Tastemakers.” Here’s Farhad Manjoo:

If Silicon Valley is known, in the popular imagination, as a place bent on replacing human judgment with algorithmic efficiency, Apple wants to hold itself up as the one tech company that stands proudly against that trend. The firm has long played up personal dimension of tech. But the Beats d220px-Dr.DreTheChroniceal, as well as several recent hires from the realms of luxury fashion and design, point to the firm’s growing interest in human curation and, especially, culturally-savvy expertise. Apple is doubling down on tastemakers.

He quotes Apple’s Tim Cook praising Beats’ system of having celebrities like Dre and Jimmy Iovine shape the lists. “It’s something that a technology company alone wouldn’t do,” Cook told him. “Everybody would be focused on the zeroes and ones and how to make it machine learning, and forget about the human approach to it.”

Well, this is better than letting a machine do everything, I guess. (And for what it’s worth, Dre’s The Chronic is one of the best albums of all time; the guy has good taste.) I still miss the people who worked in bookstores and record shops, though, in the pre-winner-take-all era.





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