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    Gatekeepers and judgment

    Infinity is seductive.

    1,000 emails take up just as much space (and cost just as much) as one. An online bookstore can carry every book ever published. And the long tail of music gives every single person a chance to share their work.

    The simplest thing to do is “let the market sort itself out.” No judgment.

    That’s what the algorithms of the tech world purport to do. No judgment about taste, quality or standards. Hands off about sources, repercussions or impact.

    It’s easier. And at some level, it seems more fair.

    Without the scarcity of limited shelf space, it’s easy to embrace infinity.

    But no judgment is still a judgment in itself. When a site publishes every idea on its platform, promoting each based on a non-published formula, they’ve made a judgment about the power of ideas and the way a community can evolve. This is new. Libraries, bookstores, radio stations–all of the keepers of our culture–danced with scarcity and influence and responded with judgment. If you can’t carry or promote everything, then judgment is the obvious response. Because you have to pick something.

    But when companies demur and refuse to make a judgment, infinity and scarcity collide. Institutional reputation and knowledge have value, and by ignoring them, the big tech companies are making a statement about that value. Each seems to be trying harder than the next to help users fail to understand what’s worth trusting.

    The fracas that is kindergarten has a useful function. It helps kids grow up. But if you need surgery, I hope you’ll go to the hospital, not the local elementary school.

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