How to survive in the promoted content age
While reading blog posts from various sources, I noticed something uncanny: there were very few that explored a concept without linking to other posts, asking for a subscription, or plugging some product.
It’s because most blog posts are secretly just “content marketing” trying to get you to do something wherever the blog post is hosted. Somewhere in the past, “ideas” seem to have been replaced by “content.” If you have heard this word, you might have trouble pinning down exactly what it means. What’s the difference between content and ideas?
Here’s how I distinguish the two. Put simply, content is a vector and an idea is a scalar. If those are new or foggy words to you, it’s every nerd’s dream to tell you a scalar is a value and a vector is a value (called magnitude) with a direction attached. The classic example comes from physics: velocity is a vector and speed is a scalar. Similarly, content contains the idea (value) AND a purpose (direction), while an idea by itself can exist on it’s own. It’s not a perfect distinction but it’s pretty useful: content wants something from you.
Outside of very obvious promoted content with brand names written all over it, try to pay attention to the stuff that you consume online. Often at the end of an article there will be some “call to action,” which is a term marketing folks coined for when someone asks you do something. Something like: “Hey! If you liked the article, drop your email over here so I can send you more of them!”
For me, I find it to be a turn off. Even if I liked the ideas of the article, anything promoted feels cheapened.
There is something dirty to me about content over ideas. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it is that the more we “share” on the internet, the less bandwidth we have to actually share in the exploration of an interesting idea. Or perhaps it’s that we aren’t upfront with our motives for why the article exists in the first place.
Wishing for things that don’t exist is a waste of time, but I’m the type of person that really likes to explore ideas for the sake of exploring them. I suppose what I wish for more people to remain curious, and I would hope the word is becoming a less transactional place rather than more.
I imagine the logical extreme of content is just perfectly manipulating people to give you resources without having to do anything. I would like to live in a world where we can share ideas without expecting anything in return. It seems that the emphasis on content to get people to do things is diluting the pool of ideas that are maybe more interesting or valuable by themselves.
Life pro tip: skip to the end of a post and then you’ll usually find the expected price of reading it.
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NOTE: Shout out to the internet for providing me with stock photos that I have shamelessly stolen.