How reading online has you stuck in a dark bubble
A photograph is content creation. A status update is content creation. A comment is content creation. A 10-sec tik tok video is content creation. Every day, every hour we are adding to the global online content database, creating a mammoth of valuations for these platforms.
It is difficult for us to realise this because we still haven’t fully absorbed the applications of digital media. When we create content, we look at it through the lens of the previous decade — an age when people shared information without the ability of it turning into a global sensation. We try to find similarities between the online content eco-system of today and the print media of previous decades. As a result, we try to force-fit online publishing into templates of the print era — an action called retrofitting.
This happens with every type of new disruptive technology, which is that over the first decade or decades of their development most of its application is skeuomorphic design meaning that it is designed to be a shadow of the past.
Readership in the print era and digital era
Let’s take the examples of magazines. Popular zines like Femina or Elle published monthly editions with high-quality content and a special focus on photography and design. It took a lot for an author to get published in one of these magazines regularly, or even once. As a result, budding or average writers/photographers had a one in a million shot at having their content reach an audience.
At first, it seemed like the internet had solved this problem. Sites like blogger.com had eliminated the entry barriers. Anybody could create and self publish their content. If your content got traction then it could reach out to a multitude of readers. Plus, the rise in the number of publications exponentially increased opportunities for creators. In the era of print real estate was limited. So publications had to limit the number of articles they could publish in their editions. This is no more the case today. Running your publication on the internet (with cheap cloud space) means that you literally have infinite space. So the thumb-rule most publications follow today is; publish all content but promote only the good ones. If the publication likes the article they also allocate prime time real estate on their home page and also push the content to their followers.
Look at Medium.com for example. We’re all publishers here, and there’s no barrier to entry in the lucrative publishing industry. But the platform allocates its marketing/promotional tools and budgets to only a small percentage of all published content.
The reason publishing platforms do this is that they can achieve two things here — one, encourage creation, and two, turn good content into profits for both the creator and the curator.
A win-win situation!
But there’s also a lose-lose side to this
There’s a barrage of information on the internet today and most readers aren’t able to identify the good content from average/bad content. Imagine going to a thrift store and trying to find the one useful item amidst a dump of defective goods. You’ve really got to be careful and wise to find it.
Unfortunately, prudence is scarce and most readers just rely on a set of digital cues and tools to find information. These include but are not limited to algorithms (history-based content suggestions), feeds(shared by friends and people whom we consider worth following) and social cues (number of likes and comments on a post). It’s a convenient option that benefits publications but is a hard nut for creators and readers.
The industrial media complex — a monetary collaboration between big guns and publications to push out biased content has made it even harder for readers to find the right information. Echo chambers are constantly being created where consumers only get content with a particular spin — an action known as agenda-setting. A single click on such content, and search engines’ self-reinforcing nature will keep pushing up similar content in feed.
At the end, readers don’t get the content they really want, but their wants are gradually altered to accept what they’re given.
This bubble is equally bad for creators, who are now forced to churn out content that fits inside the bubble. Sure you can produce your original ideas, create that what you want, that which makes you satisfied, but if it doesn’t fit within the bandwidth of the publication’s agenda, it is less likely to be distributed. One’s Facebook status is no more valuable than the other’s. One Insta pic of a fancy plate of pretentious quantities of food is no different than another. At the heart of it, they’re just expressions of opinions and activities (the very idea why Facebook started). But what makes one more important for the platform to push out to multitudes is its capacity to fall into content agendas.
That’s the sad truth about readership in the digital era. Content standards are now measured through graphs prepped up by algorithms and agendas.