“Content” Should be a Dirty Word

By Brian Moakley Jun 25, 2024 #content #writing

Not too long ago, Daniel Elk, CEO of Spotify, really stepped into the cow’s dung. He made a rather unfortunate tweet stating, “Today, with the cost of creating content being close to zero, people can share an incredible amount of content.”

It was a bone headed statement that devalued the time, expense, and training for music. In the age computer generated “art”, it’s no surprise about the resulting outrage. Business leaders see just the end product, not the struggle. They don’t see the craftsmanship and skills. Nor do they see the costs on purchasing instruments and recording equipment and the time investment required to be proficient with those items..

But that didn’t really bother me. People have been devaluing art since the invention of currency. What bothered me the most was the word content and how some artists are comfortable using it to describe their work.

For me, this discomfort with the word content goes all the way back to YouTube.

The Endless Landfill

Years ago, I wanted to stream video games. I discovered Twitch in 2013 and spent the year, watching all different kinds of streamers. It looked fun – like being a DJ of games while playing around with a live audience. I had two small kids at the time. Twitch requires a consistent schedule that I didn’t have. I pivoted to YouTube since with YouTube, I didn’t need to be live.

It didn’t take long but I quickly discovered that going viral was key part of building an audience. Yet, it’s incredibly hard to get noticed in such a massive field. Ben “Yahtzee” Crenshaw described it as sending a message in a bottle in a sea of messages in bottles. I realized I needed not just ten or twenty videos, I needed hundreds. The more videos, the more opportunities.

There was very little art to them. There was no soul. I’d spent a Saturday recording videos of my gameplay, then I’d slap them together in my editing program, and voila … content.

A photo of a lightning bolt strikes the city.
Going viral on YouTube is essential and is as difficult as collecting lighting in a bottle (Photo by Sean McAuliffe)

In time, every so often, one did go viral. This was actually terrible because the video traffic is like a drug. There is an immense high followed by a terrible crash. At the end of the process, I always wanted more. These “hangovers” were a mixture of of self-doubt and self-loathing.

The only logical answer was to make more and more videos. There was no end and over time, my numbers did rise and I found a small success. I occasionally took “some time off” and make something I cared about. These often did “nothing”, and it was back to the grind until the grind grinded me to dust.

A picture of a vast landfill that extends to the horizon.
The YouTube content landfill is vast and limitless (Photo by Katie Rodriguez)

Out of the 1200+ videos I made, only a handful truly mattered to me. The rest are now residents of the YouTube digital landfill buried under a sea of similar “content”. Never to seen again.

Serving the Slop

At the end of the day, each artist must make their own choice. Create art? Create slop? Sometimes one evolves from the other. Other times, you have no choice. There are situations where all you can make is slop and surprisingly, the slop is good. And that’s okay.

But the word content implies sanitation. It implies implies an implicit devaluing of the work. It amplifies the commercial aspects of a piece of art and decreases the actual artistic merits of it. It implies mass production. Widget casting. It’s a repeating process about making as much content as possible without care of improvement.

This is why I don’t like this word. It’s an abdication of our self expression. When I make content say for a blog, I’m vomiting up text as fast as my hands can write. But when I’m writing an article like this one, I’m taking my time to craft something for my audience. After all, If I can’t spend the time to write an article that matters, why should you spend time reading it?

The “tech bros” will happily provide us with endless content by way of AI aka, the “happiness machine”, but I will be surprised if such a machine does anything but amuse.

A book cover of "Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis. It shows a cloaked woman stuck between the past and the present.

Years I ago, I listened to the audiobook “Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis. By the end of the novel, I had tears streaming down my face. My wife thought someone had died when in fact, my heart had been touched.

The book presented two worlds whereby one future society struggles with a pandemic and a village in medieval Europe struggles with the Black Death. The two stories are interwoven with a time traveler trapped in the past unable to be saved by her team in the present. It was so intense and beautiful. It was art and I still feel its mark today. Mind you, this was before Covid became a household name.

So do me a favor. Next time, someone asks what you do, don’t answer “content creator”. Tell them you make documentaries or write skits. Tell them you craft stories or sing sea shanties. Embrace your art and in doing so, share your raw humanity. Leave the content for the tech bros and their infernal machines. They’ll spend an astronomical amount of energy and treasure simply to mimic your impact on the human heart.

By Brian Moakley

Brian Moakley is a writer and technologist who lives amongst the quiet hills in New England. When not reading tales of high adventure, he is often telling such stories to all who will listen.

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2 thoughts on ““Content” Should be a Dirty Word”
  1. Came here from your C# for Unity course, stayed for a genuinely great article on a topic I’m extremely passionate about. Incredible work.

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