How we use the internet – consuming vs. curating vs. creating content

Afterthoughts: Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynmann By Richard Feynmann

Afterthoughts: A Single Man by Christopher Ishwerwood

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For as long as I have been using the internet, I have not given much thought to how exactly I use it. Like most who grew up on the internet, I saw it as a resource of seemingly limitless possibilities. Now I recognise that this mindset is of of a consumer on the internet. Only recently have I discovered, and realised, for myself that this is only made possible by curators and creators of content. Implicitly, I must have known this to be the case, but I never happened to give it any meaningful consideration. It is so easy to fall into an endless routine of consuming and endless stream of digital experiences e.g. articles, video, podcasts, games, etc.

The internet is a piece of technology that enables co-operation on a much more sophisticated level. This is what I imagine Yuval Noah Harari would say having read Sapiens – his treatise on the history of humankind. I would argue, however, that the level of co-operation is determined, at least in part, by content. The better the content, the deeper and more nuanced the level of co-operation. This is best measured by the amount of time we spend on the internet.

In the early days, there was, comparatively, very little content. Content encompasses any digital experiences. In this day in age, it is often used to refer to articles, videos, and podcasts. But digital products are content too like software. In 2000, we could ask questions on forums, play simple games, or shoot off some emails. In 2020, it is easier to identify things what we cannot do, than what we can do on the internet. That 20 year period has seen an explosion of online content.

The acceptance of the internet by the mainstream in the 1990s created a vacuum for content that had everyone (and their mother) brimming with excitement. It was a free-for-all. Pioneers from that digital goldrush still stand today led by Microsoft and Google. Today, the ecosystem is infinitely more diverse, and one could argue fractured. The span of human interests is greater than the number of words in the dictionary. Niches have cropped up in EVERY part of the internet.

Look no further than Reddit to marvel at the spectrum of niches available. Reddit is a platform that hosts different communities – each subreddit is a different niche community. There are communities for the things you would expect like writing, sports, or gaming. As you dig deeper, you find subreddits for specific TV shows and countries like Game of Thrones or New Zealand. If, however, find yourself a regular user of Reddit, you quickly discover that communities of even more niche sub-groups are available. One I am a proud member of is r/IllegallySmolCats in which users post pictures of teeny tiny cats. It is completely and utterly random and not something you would necessarily believe would be true, I didn’t until I stumbled on it accidentally.

The incomprehensibly large amount of content online makes it easier than ever to stay a consumer. Creators, and curators to a lesser degree, are the unsung heroes of the internet. Nowadays, if you say an internet creator, most of the time, it refers to YouTubers. It, of course, refers to writers, film-makers, designers, and programmers – anyone that creates any piece of content. Whether it is for their work, as a hobby, or for fun, the internet owes a big debt to creators of all kinds. It could be as simple as posting a photo on r/IllegallySmolCats or as intricate as building a piece of software. Each are valuable and honourable contributions to the digital discourse.

Sometimes I wonder what the internet would look like if everyone made the effort to contribute content. It doesn’t necessarily have to be anything time-consuming, it could be as simple as documenting things. Not only would the number of niches explode, but so would the range of types of content.

I do recognise, now, there are a lot more people becoming curators of content. This is seen on most clearly Twitter. Now is the time where digital natives are coming of age, and we have reached a stage where it is not weird or uncool to share and engage with strangers we meet online. Many people do this via the medium of their followings, sharing interesting things. A subset of that group will spend the effort send a weekly newsletter to a mailing list. A small subset have created online personas in which their primary function is to highlight, and thereby by curate, cool things on the internet.

I have thought about this a lot recently because I, myself, am behaving more like a curator and creator. This blog is a medium I use to write, to create. My website, newsletter, and Twitter are mediums I use to curate content. This recent experience inspired this piece and made me so much more grateful to the everyday creators and curators out there.

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