If content is king, we need an revolt and someone needs to kill him by Tom Goodwin
We’re drowning in excess, in a world where everyone can make everything and the democratization of creativity, but what if the wisdom of crowds is a myth, maybe we should focus on quality not participation, maybe we need a way to bring the best to the top and less is more in the future.
Humankind has evolved to deal with scarcity, the long term condition of our world is a lack of food, a need for shelter, a dearth of information. Our basic human needs involve grabbing all we can, when we can, storing it where possible for later, from nuts and berries in caves, to fat around our bellies, our brains and bodies thrive on the concept of more.
So we’ve long craved more. We define ourselves by excess. We celebrate having too much to do, having more money, having the most friends, for much of human history obesity has been a badge of honor, now it’s the extra bedrooms in the weekend retreat.
Thus consumerism and modern marketing exists to ensure our needs to buy stuff, to have more choices, to ensure between cherry diet coke and vanilla diet coke, a cherry vanilla diet coke can squeeze our more more sale, the need for more is to be profitably satiated.
From my vantage point in 2015 we’ve the ultimate first world problem, there is just too much good stuff in the world. The true scarcity of modern times isn’t stuff or entertainment or even attention, it’s clarity.
Our lives once depended on finding information, from cave paintings to storytelling down generations, around the fire to the Caxton press, now our sanity demands that we filter it.
My email swells with newsletters from genius’s, my bookmarks are stuffed with superb writing from around the world, my safari reading list is an overwhelming things to do list. I can access every Oscar winning film, listen to every piece of music ever made, consume the works of Shakespeare in any language, glimpse our best friends Wedding pics and we’ve what feels like the entire worlds knowledge crammed into Wikipedia. It’s almost because of this, not despite it, that my attention falls on Pizza Rat or Milkshake Squirrel. We’re going mad.
So despite all the wonder we don’t have time to appreciate, we’re swamped with crap we don’t want. When we decided that the internet needed to be funded with our eyeballs and not money, when we gave every person a camera told them they we’re gifted, when we made publishing easier, when we invited everyone to participate, when every brand thought it had a story to sell, we created the greatest depository of absolute crap the world has ever known, the internet in 2015.
The tools to democratize creativity are everywhere, we’ve 3D printers and scanners to make pointless trinkets, faster than ever. We’ve drones to allow us to record boring landscapes in more interesting ways, we’ve Kickstarter campaigns to find every stupid idea with the silly money, Go Pro’s to share our 2 second airtime, and medium allows everyone the chance to be a proper publisher. The GAP year or year out is replaced by setting up a startup, it’s not venture capital, it’s adventure capital, our chance to learn from mistakes in the coffee shops of Hoxton not the Machu Picchu trail, building an app to find band mates is the new building a water supply to help remote villages.
The optimism of new technology trumps the critical thinking of reality. We live in abundant times where due to low interest rates, a frothy housing market, it seems anyone with an idea and a Slack account gets funding. Between the endless silly ideas, the crap content, the kickstarter funded plays, the medium posts, the blogger with a Jewelry line, we’re sinking under rubbish.
I believe that we live in a world that is cyclical, that for every action there is a reaction, I think a generation of people who grew up always wanting more, and to own things, and to have a choice will give away to a generation of people fed up with complex choice architecture, paralysed by information, desperate for the simplification of things.
I think the next few age herald an age of simplification and frictionlessness.
I don’t want 1,500 channels on my TV to navigate content by, I don’t want to have to do 10 perfect button presses to find Flight of the Concords in a menu taxonomy that Kafka would consider crazy, I don’t want the next promising iteration which is to instead navigate 56 apps, I just want to find the very best content. Content my friends love, content that algorithms suggest to me. The future of TV isn’t more, it’s far fewer, far better, far more valuable content that people can watch any time, any place, without the need for complex subscription plans and baffling choices.
I don’t want to subscribe to 20 news providers, neither do I want not pay for news, I want micropayment driven content to allow me access to everything wonderful in the world and to discover it via Twitter, or Facebook or Apple News and for it all to be paid for fairly and in a way that reflects the value of well researched, fact checked, unbiased content. We’re swimming in crap.
I don’t want Airbnb to show me 1,000 places to rent in the Catskills, I want to browse everywhere within 2 hours drive that has a modern sleek look, with large windows, decent cooking implements, why are we so poorly set up for search in the modern world.
I don’t want 100 SKU’s of milk, I don’t want 14 thai restaurants on Seamless each with 36 dishes, I just want good, better, best and someone to make choices for me.
I don’t want to surf the websites of 20 theatres to find one play to watch, and then need to set up an account to buy a ticket. I don’t want Yelp to tell me the very best 20 bars near me, I just want one play per week, one new bar each weekend.
The age of abundance is a buy one get one free of cognitive burden, it’s too much, too often, too bad for me. Make things easy for me,
From Maple offering 4 dishes per day, to Hotel Tonight offering me just hotels near me for that night, to Silver Car offering only Audi’s, the future for me is simple, it’s about less, the best, and most easy.
Tom Goodwin is SVP of Innovation at Havas Media USA. This is part of the “Maker” section of our new series of Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief essays. You can buy the book that inspired the series, Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief: Advertising’s Next Generation, here.