I hate this isolation. So much of my social life – friends, community, art, music, writing – has been centered around in-person events. Readings, concerts, open-mics, workshops. Album release parties, book release parties, single release parties, house shows, fundraisers. So many people I like making art that I like. And me doing it too sometimes. Odds are if I went to your show or your event it’s because I liked your art, but more than that I liked you, and the people you gathered around you. Better still were the in-person connections without an agenda – meeting for coffee, coming over for dinner, hosting pancake brunch, connecting just for the sake of connecting.
No more of that these days. In-person connections aren’t possible in the same way, no coffeehouses, no dinner parties, certainly no shows or readings or workshops. Many of you artist folks are going online with your work. Facebook, Instagram, other platforms I’m too ignorant to know or care about. And non-artist folks as well, posting selfies or pictures of what you’re up to, making masks or sourdough or gardens, taking classes or posting articles or memes. Lots of content from my friends and community online right now. But I’m not feeling a lot of connection.
“Content.” It’s become such a buzzword. Our social media – and all sorts of other new media – has become dependent on content. It’s all based off of the feed, off endless scrolling and the need to have something to fill it. And we’ve been successfully convinced – artists and non-artists alike – to become “content generators”. For some of you it’s even become something to aspire to. Professional content creators. And some of you have gotten really good at it. You’ve figured out how to game the algorithm, optimize your searchability, go viral, or otherwise learn the rules of the content system and exploit them.
And good for you, maybe. You’re getting likes and comments and shares and maybe even some income from it. Some of you have gotten some of those things from me, and I’ve gotten some of those things from you. But I really don’t feel like we’re getting any genuine connection from it.
Do any of you feel that you are? Are you entering into this system just for the likes and comments and shares and maybe revenue? Do you actually feel genuine connection, or joy, or satisfaction, or community? I suspect at least some of you do at least some of the time. If you are actually satisfied by content generation and consumption, of gaming the algorithm and finding your connection this way, well, the rest of this post maybe isn’t for you. I’ll tell you now that I don’t feel that way, and I no longer aspire to feel that way. Because I also suspect many more of you expect to than do, or project that you do, or hope that you do, but actually don’t, find very much in the way of meaningful connection on here. That there are more of you who like me feel that “content” is just as poor a substitute for connection as cotton candy is for an actual meal.
And that’s what content is, by and large. Filler, fluff, nothing more. Maybe some of it is meaningful, maybe some connection is to be found, but it seems to me that that’s incidental. And some of you content generators are artists, sure, but a lot of them aren’t (and not all artists are or aspire to be content generators either). At any rate, content doesn’t care one way or the other. Being artistic, creative, community- and connection-building is irrelevant, because none of those things are the point of these so-called “content platforms”.
The point of them is, very simply, to generate shareholder revenue. Most of us know this on some level – that the vast majority of social- and new-media platforms are owned by for-profit corporations whose shareholders make more money the more the platform is used. But do we really think about the implications of this? That these platforms don’t actually care whether we’re connecting, so long as we’re using? That in fact the less connected we feel, the more we use them? That these platforms even stoke our outrage, anger, loneliness, disconnection, precisely because that’s what will keep us scrolling and keep the revenue coming in?
Personally, I’m ready to think more about this. These days, I’m feeling more lonely, isolated, inadequate, angry, and depressed when I’m trying to connect via corporate media than when I’m not. This is true whether I’m posting my own content or scrolling through yours, liking or being liked, commenting or being commented upon, and I’m sick of it. I’ve eaten too much junk food, and while content generation demands that I eat more, my body’s beginning to reject it.
Now if you’re reading this (still!) and your first reaction is to say ‘it’s not like that for me!’ or to defend your own social media use, or to #NotAllContent or wryly comment that I’m posting this on Facebook, you’re missing the point I’m trying to make, which is this: it doesn’t work for me, and I want something other than what this is offering. And I’d ask you to take a moment of self-examination as well, and ask yourself: do you feel more fulfilled by ten people in a coffeehouse applauding your poem, or a hundred people liking the video of you reading your poem? Would you rather be playing a house show tonight or live-streaming from your bedroom? Would you rather have a conversation with a friend about an article you just read or have them comment on your post about it? And would you feel more connected to me if I sent you a text saying I was thinking of you as I made soup for dinner the other night or by seeing me post a picture of the soup (sweet potato and lentil with Jamaican Jerk spices, by the way)?
I know my answers to these questions, and they’re no contest. I imagine I know how you’d answer too. And if you’re also feeling like this whole content-stream-thing is inadequate to fulfilling your connection needs, you’re not alone. Feel free to reach out to me. And I’m not talking about liking, sharing, or commenting on this post – and I probably won’t engage with you if you do. I’m talking about sending me a message, calling me, emailing me, or best of all sending me some mail. Aside from in-person interaction, the most connected I feel to someone is when I receive and exchange mail with them. My address is 8610 W Ohio Place, Lakewood, CO 80226. Go ahead.
Or if not me, someone else. Reach out to someone you’ve been missing, ask them how they’d prefer to connect. Or connect with yourself. Write or perform or cook or otherwise create something specifically not for the content stream. Stop outsourcing your need for community. Stop outsourcing my need for community. Less content, more connection. Please.