Devaluing Content – On the Internet of Shit

If you look at the current wave of the internet, the dominant financial force is the move to social media. Reddit, Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s no longer the hot new thing, but a part of entrenched conglomerates coming after your time and attention. Here’s a hot button issue that’s increasingly talked about now: drinking from the internet firehose. Back in the 90’s, the internet was a small place. Now, everyone’s connected, and everyone’s consuming content. There’s a never ending stream of new content being produced relentlessly for people to consume, and huge incentives to keep producing more. Most of it ends up being shit. This is normal.

One interesting thing about the rise of social media is the decentralization of content production – instead of having curated sources for content, like broadcast television and movie theaters pre-internet, now anyone can make something and upload it to the internet. The part that’s been centralized is the distribution process, the part owned by these social networks. Now, I’m not going to say this decentralization is all inherently bad – that would be a broad and sweeping generalization. There’s some great stuff about opening the floodgates for people to make stuff; If I have an issue fixing my car/electronics/etc, the first thing I’d think of doing is hopping on youtube to see if someone has made a video detailing the repair process. A lot of niche subjects are routinely disseminated on youtube, to the benefit of the niche groups and to passive consumers. But as one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away.

One group that’s suffered tremendously from the advent of social media is the pre-internet content producers. I’m thinking of media conglomerates that own TV studios, newspapers, music production companies, and so forth. While I give approximately zero shits about the RIAA, I do feel like newspapers drawing the short stick is bad for everyone. While newspaper companies aren’t the sole source of investigative journalism, they are the source of like 90%* of investigative journalism in America. Therefore, financially ruining these institutions have a negative effect overall, assuming you believe journalism is a necessary service to the good of your country.

Discuss how constant media production devalues content in general. Link this to devaluation of journalism because content is expected to be free now, or supported solely by advertisements. Mention unavoidable costs of investigative journalism and come to conclusion that it’s unsustainable for man to live on ads alone. Talk about reverting back to patron model with patreon, and NYT asking for handouts.

Newspapers need to move to new model – but what is sustainable that includes hard costs of doing business? Needs to be reliable – thus subscription model. People aren’t paying for content, but expect it anyway and it should be cheap and plentiful. The meat and potatoes ends up being investigative journalism. People have to be incentivized to pay for it somehow. I’m optimistic that there’ll be a sustainable revenue stream for journalism in the future, when we hash out the economics of doing business on the internet. In the meantime, though, journalists are fucked.

*These numbers are sourced from the department of made up bullshit

Star Trek Thoughts

I’ve been watching some OG Trek recently and noticed some niggling issues that I wanted to address.

There’s too many references to current knowledge. For example, the episode “Who Mourns for Adonais” is all about the Greek pantheon of gods from ancient earth history. It’s a cultural touchstone for western culture, but I’d imagine that Trek time thousands of years into the future would have a different set of cultural touchstones, and therefore this would be a bit obscure. I’d prefer that Trek would keep to more evergreen topics instead of having callbacks like this.

In the episode “Mirror, Mirror”, Kirk and co. are warped to parallel universe Trek where the federation is an evil empire that enslaves other nations. Evil Spock is denoted by his goatee. Evil Kirk is also transplanted to OG Trek world, and is detained instantly by normal Spock, who realizes something’s off. Evil Kirk’s reaction? “Why are you imprisoning me? Where’s your beard?” At least Evil Kirk has his priorities in order. Also funny to me that despite being in a bizarro evil universe, Kirk is still bros with evil Spock and can spare some time to have heart to heart. The funniest part of the episode was how Jim still had all this time to seduce Marlena despite the time crunch and being in this environment where everyone wanted to kill him. Normal Kirk also has his priorities in order.

Amok Time:  wherein Spock is dying because he can’t bust a nut. But his symptoms magically go away after he believes he’s killed Jim. Very strange to contemplate overall: basic Vulcan biology requires them to either kill someone or fuck someone every ten years or they die, I guess. Also, for such a logical race, their explanations are a bit lacking: even though Jim had the right to deny the death match with Spock as an outsider, T’pau and co. never bothered to explain that he was accepting a fight to the death in the first place. What’s the point of trying to be fair if you’re not going to both ameliorating the information asymmetry?

Basically, Old Trek has some problems, but everything does, really.

Creation vs Consumption

The Pareto principle is the general idea that most things can be broken into an 80/20 split – that is, you can gain 80% of the benefits of doing something in 20% of the time and vice versa.  The actual percentages don’t matter – the general principle is what’s important: a small portion of the work takes up most of your time, but conversely, a large portion of the work is done can be done in a relatively small portion of time. This principle also holds for the producer/consumer divide, which is as follows: for communities, most of the work done to sustain the community is produced by a small portion of users, while the rest of the community passively receive the benefits of membership.

Here’s a more concrete example: Reddit power users. Power users are the producers taken to the next level: they generate new posts and report things to different subreddits to increase user engagement in the form of upvotes and comments. You also have reddit users who post, but only on occasion. Then you have users who only consume – people who only ever leave comments (I fall in this category) and lurkers who never even comment.

When I apply this distribution to my own life, I realize I spend most of my time as a passive consumer. In fact, it seems like modern society is pushing people in that direction further and further. It may not be an intentional broader strategy, but the influx of various media streams call on users to consume more and more, which naturally leaves less time to produce. Social media naturally provides easy paths for people to mindlessly consume – the endless loop of facebook posts harkens to the model, and the constant stream of new posts on reddit also can facilitate the content consumption cycle. Same goes for snapchat, instagram, etc. Then, there’s competing media companies like Netflix/every other streaming site that gives viewers an infinite stream of videos to spend your time. Netflix in particular is conducive to the consumption format, releasing shows in a way that facilitates binge watching by dropping all the episodes at once when a show is released. I don’t think this is a big deal, as the episodic nature of shows is a holdover from television days anyway, but Netflix is clearly aware of the binge watching facet of their distribution strategy and in fact encourages it.

Anyways, my point is, even though my only outlet of production is this blog, and I barely write as it is, I kind of realize how difficult it is to produce things. I can spend anywhere from 1-2 hours on a simple stream of consciousness blog post, but if I decide to carefully go over a topic and do some edits, a post can take me several hours. On the other hand, it only takes me like 5 minutes to read my post. Clearly, the work that goes into consuming is nowhere on the level of actually producing the work in question. When I think of all the books that have been written, TV shows made, movies produced, reddit posts created, etc. I think, “Damn, that shit must have taken forever.” Anyways, I’m going to try to start producing more.