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“Content:” Creating For The Machine

Richard Powers, 1977

Too often I’ve heard the proud pronouncement, “We’re manipulating the SEO! We’ve done it, were on page one of Google!” Cheers all around. Glasses clink. A feeling of accomplishment rides on the air and stinks like ozone. Meanwhile, the hyperlink smirks at the competition. Now, it’s the authority, the badass source for that particular keyword, e.g. “Manx cats,” or “senior citizen eSports.” Who decided that this or that deserves to stand atop the podium?

Nobody.

No body manipulates the algorithm. The notion is entirely misguided. Bodies are manipulated by the algorithm. When we wear our blue ribbons and smile, were not congratulating some ingenious process; we congratulate our ability to march in-sync with a horde. We conform our creations to the edicts of a dynamic code nobody really understands.

We create “content.”

“Content.” The word isn’t a net for scooping tropical fish, but a 50-gallon trash bag stuffed with any junk that can be digitally codified. Do you refer to a book as “content?” How about a song? Movie? No. Not unless it’s a YouTube video (with an accompany blog-ready transcript) on VideoVinny’s channel. Now that’s content: compressed and optimized for an attractive call-to-action. Masking vinegar with synthetic honey.

Content with “content.”

“Content” has become a word without a soul, without a vision of itself. A project which is a means to an end, catching clicks to cash in. All watched over by machines of calculating content. The cybernetic forest is a junkyard, and the deer are starving on knotted wires shaped like flowers.

The quasi-religious myth of singularity proposes a world where technology has run so far amok it achieves a kind of divinity. If that were all it suggested then Kurzweil is a prophet. Our world is already a collection of cybernetic clerics. Eating our calculated daily bread.

“If they could speak, do you think they would tell us to try and be a little more creative?”

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