Every time I hear the word “content” I puke a little bit in my mouth. As someone with a day job in marketing for an organization with 250+ staff members, you can probably imagine that I’m barfing on the inside quite a bit. I’m forever being asked to get content into templates, websites, PowerPoint presentations, blog posts, social media accounts, article syndication, advertisements, and, if possible, a subcutaneous injection device with a direct feed to your brain stem.
The word “content” gets me all biled up mostly because it so succinctly & perfectly represents the commodification of language. It’s as if when language becomes content it stops being about an authentic conversation and it starts being about selling you something. Content is packaged to be palatable: heavy on manufactured flavor, light on actual nourishment. Content is basically word Cheetos.
Content is disheartening on so many levels, not the least of which being that (if I may paraphrase Grady Tripp) the printed word happens to be my drug of choice. We’ve taken one of the greatest tools evolution has ever given us and we made it into a product: one whose sole purpose is to sell us other products.
Content gives zero fucks what you think. It just wants to word vomit on you until you are aligned with it’s strategic purpose. Which is—always—“give us your money, little monkey…”
But content isn’t just text—it’s images, too: photographic, videographic, infographic, etc. Marketers have known for some time now that you’re more likely to engage with their content if it includes an image, or video clip, or an animated jumping juju bean.
But “engaging” with content seems like a stretch, doesn’t it? Does “liking/favoriting/sharing/re-tweeting” really mean you engaged with something? When we “follow” artists via social media, how much time are we spending with their content—really contemplating it—as we scroll through our feeds? Even calling it a “feed” makes us seem like cattle at the trough.
All of this has, of course, been true for a very, very long time. Marketing has just been getting increasingly complex & targeted: focus groups, demographic models, psychographic studies, customer relationship management software, and now Big Data. What was news to me, however, was that corporations have started hiring novelists as “chief storytelling officers” to help create their content.
I suppose, in some ways, this could be viewed as good news: All those recent MFA grads may actually be able to get a job & pay off their student loans in a reasonable amount of time. And perhaps Nike, Citibank, Comcast, et al. could even (inadvertently) become the 21st century Medici families—paying writers’ rents while they produce masterworks (albeit on nights & weekends). And maybe, maybe, those days spent spinning corporate stories could really just be opportunities for these CSO writers to hone their craft.
Needless to say, I’m a little concerned about how devious companies with CSOs are about to get in their efforts to market shit to me (subtlety is most assuredly an arrow in the artists’ quiver). The next time I binge-watch an entire 12-episode arc on Netflix, I may not even realize until the season’s over that the whole point of it was my soul has a Chicken McNugget-sized hole in it.
But perhaps the most disconcerting thing about this glut of corporate-sponsored content is also the most ironic thing about it. Once content is posted online, it’s basically available to the masses forever. Even deleted content can live on through caches, archives, and screengrabs. But is there anything more fleeting than content? The sheer volume of content makes it all but impossible to really remember that post you read, that image you saw, that thing you “liked.” I’m seriously worried that content is destroying my brain.
I’m afraid that the mere act of engaging with content—as frivolous as I may find it, as infrequently as I stumble upon it, or as self-aware as I may pretend to be—this interaction is somehow conditioning me to treat text and images as ever more disposable. Even when I want to spend time ENGAGING WITH CONTENT. And keep in mind, this is all coming from a guy who doesn’t have cable television or broadband internet access in his home. So if any of you are out there maintaining content-free & fulfilling lives, please share your secret (i.e., your content) with me. Here. On the worldwide web. Where it will live forever & ever, amen.