Content is dead. Long live Content!
It is such a struggle to find engaging, fresh and creative content out there. This idea seems to be a bit counter-intuitive at first, after all, we’re surrounding my heaps of the stuff. You can open twitter and see a dozen links to articles and blogs, medium sends across a digest e-mail every day. I have an app called pocket which sends me a reading list ever so often. And then there’s the big daddy of them all, Facebook, whose feed serves up seemingly immense treasure troves of information. At first glance, it seems diverse, engaging, funny and even mind broadening. But its just a heap of junk at the end of it. You scroll and scroll and scroll, and all these platforms keep showing you a big heap of click-baitey articles that have little or no touch with reality. They paint wildly fantastic pictures of places, things and worlds that don’t really exist.
Content seems to be dead. Occasionally, there is something refreshing among all the noise though. I am a subscriber to the Guardian’s Long Reads which sends an email with 2–3 amazingly detailed investigative accounts every Saturday. Not all of them interest me, some are too Britain centric or culturally focused and I find those of no use to me. But they’re thoroughly researched, well written, present a cogent point of view and don’t rely on “feeds” of any kind to get through to the reader. Medium too has its share of crap, but that cannot be helped because it is an open source platform. There are inevitably 3–4 posts about “X things to improve productivity” or “Y lessons for startups” and all of them are useless things that irritate me beyond measure. I’ve come to the point where I’ve sort of tuned them out, like banner ads which you can un-see even after having seen and registered them briefly. But at least Medium is a direct source of content, the filtering of it is up to us as readers, but the viewpoints are all presented in an unbiased manner (at least I hope so), so that one can discover for oneself.
My main gripe is with “curated content”. It never exposes me to anything new, interesting or out of the box. It’s all based on algorithms which read my history and serve up the same set menu B that I’ve eaten countless times before. Popping up search results based on history is all very well for advertisers, search engines and e-commerce platforms, but it is a ridiculous proposition in the content market. Sure, it seems like a novel idea — This person likes to read travel blogs, let’s give him more of the same. But why the hell would I want to read a dozen travel blogs? The feed has destroyed what is the most important function of reading — New Stuff!
Why do we read? We want new information, new ideas, we want to broaden our horizons and understand perspectives of other people in the world. But feeds are basically turning us all into proverbial well-frogs, we cannot even imagine the confined nature of our silos. Which is why actual books are still the best way to find great content. I’ve written a bit here about the diverse books I read on an irregular basis. I don’t select them based on a musing of my reading history. Even when I’m in a phase of type (I’ve had many over the years, Mafia worlds, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Thrillers, non-fiction; they all recur at some time) it’s still more organic and personal decision based. When I go to bookstores, and this is one of the reasons I go to used bookstores, I don’t know what I’m looking for because I don’t know what I’ll find. This way, I pick up books that I would never have been exposed to otherwise and always find something interesting on my bookshelf.
I prefer to be my own curator. Online content may be severely limited in its vibrancy and diversity, but the old fashioned novel still reigns supreme.