Consider the fate of Giaccomo, an opera singer at the end of the 19th century, before sound recording was invented. Say he performs in a small and remote town in central Italy. He is shielded from those big egos at La Scala in Milan and other major opera houses. He feels safe, as his vocal cords will always be in demand somewhere in the district. There is no way for him to export his singing, and there is no way for the big guns to export theirs and threaten his local franchise. Inequalities exist, but let us call them mild. There is no scalability yet, no way to double the largest in-person audience without having to sing twice.
Now consider the effect of the first music recording, an invention that introduced a great deal of injustice. Our ability to reproduce and repeat performances allows me to listen to hours of background music of the pianist Vladimir Horowitz (now extremely dead) performing Rachmaninoff?s Preludes, instead of to the local Russian émigré musician (still living), who is now reduced to giving piano lessons to generally untalented children for close to minimum wage. Horowitz, though dead, is putting the poor man out of business. I would rather listen to Horowitz for $10.99 a CD than pay $9.99 for one by some unknown (but very talented) graduate of the Julliard School. If you ask me why I select Horowitz, I will answer that it is because of the order, rhythm or passion, when in fact there are probably a legion of people I have never heard about, and will never hear about- those who did not make it to the stage, but who might play just as well.
Some people naively believe that the process of unfairness started with the gramophone, according to the logic that I just presented. I disagree. I am convinced that the process started much, much earlier, with our DNA, which stores information about ourselves and allows us to repeat our performance without our being there by spreading our genes down the generations. Evolution is scalable: the DNA that wins (whether by luck or survival advantage) will reproduce itself, like a best selling book or a successful record, and become pervasive. Other DNA will vanish. Just consider the difference between us humans and other living beings on our planet.
In pursuits that have a technical component, like being a pianist or a brain surgeon, talent is easy to ascertain, with subjective opinion playing a relatively small part. The inequity comes when someone perceived as being marginally better gets the whole pie. In the arts- say the cinema- things are far more vicious. What we call ?talent? generally comes from success, rather than its opposite. Much of what we ascribe to skills is an after-the-fact attribution. The movie makes the actor and a large dose of nonlinear luck makes the movie.
The success of movies depends severely on contagions. Such contagions do not just apply to movies: they seem to affect a wide range of cultural products. It is hard for us to accept that people do not fall in love with works of art only for their own sake, but also in order to feel that they belong to a community. By imitating, we get closer to others- that is, other imitators. It fights solitude.
From The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable By Nassim Nicholas Taleb