I’ve been a huge fan of the internet since about 1993 when I got to see the World Wide Web in color and I “got” why it was so revolutionary. I have been a (generally) early adopter of different types of sites and platforms as they’ve come forth, from email to chat rooms to places to put one’s writing.
I joined Blogger and LiveJournal close to the same time? Maybe LiveJournal came first, but I always truly enjoyed the long form writing platform and the collaborative back-and-forth that came from other writers, friends, and bloggers. I noticed, perhaps in the very early teens, that many blogs were monetizing and I have to admit I missed the boat on that one. I also noticed, heading closer to the twenties, that the community feel was moving quickly to one of a broadcast channel. This was likely happening in 2017 or so, with Vine? I’m probably getting the dates wrong, but Twitter, Facebook, and the blog spaces felt more relational and equitable to me--think “I’ll follow you if you follow me” with lots more organic followers and far less bots. With the advent of Influencers on Instagram and then also TikTok and of course Podcasts, the mutuality seemed to shrink in the face of a broadcast system. “I will follow few, but want millions to follow me.” In the future, everyone has their own television and radio channels.
Content, then, is very layered and multi-purpose but also there is a fierce competition from platforms to keep you ON the platform instead of being happy to show you links to other sites. A podcaster might also vlog, capture audio and video snippets to place on the older sites (Twitter, FB, Insta) and also then TikTok, Twitch, and more. Video can be embedded in blogs as well, for multiple audiences, and the demand for new content is CONSTANT.
Whereas I might have been relatively successful with three to four posts on a blog per week, now it’s per day and on multiple platforms AND with some audience interaction on Lives or in comment threads. These content creators are creating content All. The. Time. And I wonder how many of them actually get to consume content. Many follow, as noted, very few, all while hoping for more and more followers, because at a certain point-you get paid for those views (and it still seems to me that the creators aren’t paid enough for all that they do). It seems really rigorous work to find your niche, create the stories and ideas for that niche each day every day, find followers, sponsors, partners, and then deal with both loving and hateful para-social relationships.
Consuming content on the other hand…whoa, that is easy. Again, it does depend on the type of content. Long form blogs are dense and chewy and take time to read and digest, perhaps even commenting thoughtful responses. Facebook is perhaps less so. You can read and comment, like, or not, relatively quickly. Twitter is a place I’ve certainly found myself doomscrolling, but truth be told I’ll read the whole tweet, often share it, and reply. But TikTok makes it easy to take tiny bits of tiny treats some 15 seconds some three minutes, and often I don’t even watch the whole thing. Like eating air. Sometimes. There is very good content on TikTok to be sure. And there is a never ending stream to sort through to find it. Oddly, I’ve found myself less and less likely to make content, all while consuming more and more of it without thinking. At the start, it was because part of the ways I got ideas for content was through other content. Things were slower then, as I mentioned. And it just seemed like there was breathing room to get posts up and published. But now, I have found a tendency to scroll and scroll. And then post nothing.
I was relaying this concern to a friend of mine and she said, sagely, “Scrolling TikTok can make me feel like I’ve done the thing I’ve scrolled, so I don’t have to try. See a cooking video? I might watch it but not make it. See a hiking video? I watch a nice trail but never go there.” And that comment really smacked me right in the gut.
It felt really true, that frame, that the more I consumed the more I consumed but really didn’t DO. And you have to DO in order to determine how to go about your creating, and then when you create you can’t be scrolling randomly, you have to USE the platform instead of having it use you. All of which seems like a terrible conundrum if you are both a) a creator and b) a social person that likes (or liked) that mutual interaction. If you have a product to sell, you have to be very active on these socials to get attention, clients, money but then when do you have time to actually deliver your product? Does the product become a second thought in favor of content? I’m probably foolish for writing this long-ish blog post like a middle aged Gen Xer and should be doing a TikTok video with my thoughts instead (and maybe I will) but I am a middle aged Gen Xer so there. I’ve been watching the river of social content move from a wide and shallow river we all played and splashed in, to a narrow and deep crevice into which you can get lost and drown. At least sometimes it feels that way.
The good news? It’s really all about stories, right? And how we, across many generations, tell them. The stories will remain constant, even as the methods continue to change as generations come up and tech evolves. All I feel sure of is I need to be mindful of my consumption and spend far more time creating, no matter who winds up seeing it.
photo credit thomas hawk