discontent; slow webs

Something I’m wondering: why do we call everything we put online “content” just because we’re putting it online? The act I’m doing when I make this thing that I’m going to post on a website is writing; it doesn’t feel cognitively different from trying to make anything else out of words. So why not call it a piece of writing?

Possibly this seems like a facetious and silly question, but I didn’t grow up reading absolutely everything in the English language within comprehending distance of my eyeballs without coming to a belief that language matters. What we call things is important. I worry that “content” is dulling the edge of a thing made of stories, of texts. Writing with hyperlinks or pictures in it is still a text, it’s just a text that behaves in those ways for the reader. Internet Poetry is still poetry, it’s just poetry on a glowing screen.

And maybe this is just another way of saying something I already said, but it’s an angle. And it leads to a theory: we’re calling things a different word because we want to believe that what we’re doing is different, just because we can do it faster and put it in front of more people. We’re not that different just because we have different tools; the tools don’t make us better at being human to each other. (Here is a really pithy and smart view on this, c/o Maura a while ago.)

There’s a thing (or a fragmented set of things) called the slow web. Pretty much immediately after reading that post, I did just what Jack mentioned having done: I assigned my own meaning to “the slow web.” Because when I think of that term I don’t think of apps or startups or software. I think of a way of thinking: viewing things I find online as texts, and texts as valuable, not as infinitely rotating “content.” There are definitely ways to enable this through better software; Instapaper’s one I use often. But unless we’re creating texts that reward slow and careful reading/viewing, there’s nothing there to enable.

The web at its loveliest is a storytelling medium. (The argument that it’s a customer service one is compelling; I think/hope they can coexist without one getting totally bogged down in the other). I value lots and lots of different stories, told well; I value communities that can help me find them. And I value my own time spent writing, and I have a not-very-well-hidden secret fear of not being taken seriously, in a swarm of interchangeable content-writing spewing forth from faceless people.

(A contextualizing footnote: this riff on “content” started with me waking up in the middle of the night, sleepless-scrolling through Twitter, finding a link to a Hipster Runoff post and reading it even though I have complicated ambivalence about HRO and definitely should not read it in the middle of the night in an attempt to fall back asleep. That whole idea of art/integrity vs. commodification/content as it applies to music isn’t new, but it’s nervous-making. And music is really viscerally valuable and important to me in much the same way that writing and reading is— remind me sometime to talk about seeing Mike Watt and the Missingmen that same day that I woke up at 5 am and read a big ol’ Carles rant! it basically fixed everything!)