Did You Seek It Out?

The hyper-fast sharing of “content” on social media and social news sites creates ideal conditions for this content to evolve. Just likes genes, memes evolve over time. Much of the content shared today on social news sites can probably not even be called memes. Neither is it information, for a funny picture of a cat or a joke does not inform. They are just that: individual bits of content, designed for sharing, for consumption. Just likes memes and genes, they also evolve.

Why does this happen? There are a few reasons for this. The first two lie in us: information addiction and ego. People share stuff online because they want to belong to a community, because they want to get more sharing “points”–because in some ways it satisfies their ego. They browse information because they are addicted to it. Deep in our mind lies some natural instinct for information gathering which is constantly craving for more. It doesn’t need to be challenging or enlightening, it just needs to be interesting and new. Plugged into the social Web we blindly facilitate the growing flow–a fire hose–of this content. Naturally, we share only the stuff we think will be popular, and through this filter, the content evolves to satisfy this criteria. The criteria for popularity is: something that doesn’t take much time to consume–less work, less resistance–and something that grips the information gathering instinct–something shocking, funny or unusual.

In this way, content adapts–it becomes much more enticing and much more addictive. People browse social news sites to find new content, but in the end, the content ends up seeking them–it is ready for them, ready to take their attention and time. All that’s left is people consuming content for the very sake of consumption, with no end goal or purpose. My advice: ask yourself this question, “Did you seek it out?”. Did you find this page by purposefully looking for it, seeking to satisfy a specific goal, or did you simply stumble upon it in your daily hunt for the new? Your answer will tell you whether to stop or keep reading.

February 2011