In defense of one of the most beautiful human expressions, creativity, I’ll address here the Molding Mediums, a term I’ll use to describe social media, search engine optimization systems, and blogs. These Molding Mediums are doing just that, molding the way that we interact and write. Could we be setting aside key components of creativity in shifting our creative output to appease a Medium formula?
I branched together some ideas I’ve had over the past several years having to do with the compromises we make in using specific communication mediums. The first general idea I had to work with is that social media quantitatively attempts to assign value to human experiences and more widely, human lives. The second idea is the standardization of language and content through systems of search engine optimization. Below, I go into more detail about how these Molding Mediums are effectively changing the media that we are consuming.
Social media is assigning value to humans [because we are letting it]. Social media followers and likes have foundational implications on an individual’s social network and social persona. We have people purchasing followers, we have click farms, we have “follow back” biographies on social media accounts. Over the past ten years, I have been experimenting with various social media platforms, not sticking to any one of them for very long. I noticed that during the few months spans that I had a Facebook account, I was participating in more social activities simply because those social activities became more accessible. I drew a poignant observation: people seemed to really only notice me when I was standardizing my modes of communication and adhering to the mediums. As long as I was communicating in this specific manner, I was receiving social invitations (whether they were welcome or not).
There are also limited ways in which people appear to be communicating on social media platforms. Having worked heavily in social media data to obtain evidence related to potential fraud cases, I can define several types of users who nearly render themselves into caricatures through the data that they post. You come to recognize the political rant, the complaint that life is boring, the selfie with duck lips, the perfect family, the traveler on the edge of a cliff, and so on. All of the content seems to bleed into the other, and there’s also the factor of overstimulation from the tremendous concentration of data available simply through the act of scrolling.
Search engines are standardizing our language and content. If you’ve used the Yoast SEO tool, you’ll see that the tool ranks the readability of your text. It gives you a rating, such as “needs improvement”, based on a number of set criteria. These are meant as guidelines, but they do not account for prose and poems. Given that prose and poem are not written in the same manner as an article, it is difficult to obtain a positive rating without sounding like you’re trying to please the machine. For your work to have “value” online, you are encouraged to standardize the way that you use language. If I write in a more formal way, as I tend to do, I noticed that the score is not good. If I “dumb down” my language, the readability score improves.
As for content strategy, certain topics take precedence over others; some are allowed and encouraged, others are belittled and discouraged. You’ll read endless blogs that encourage you to write specialize on one topic, and all the more bloggers calling themselves experts for the sole reason of choosing a blog focus.
Articles seem to be written for Google rather than for people.
We’re sterilizing the potency of language when we pump articles to the brim with keywords and calls to action. We’re rendering our language materially different by customizing it for a computer algorithm. Language is fundamentally changing through these methods; what are we gaining and what is going away?
Molding Mediums are creating change; we are using online interfaces to mold the way that we interact with other people. But beyond that, we’re changing the way that our writing and our content is structured, and possibility compromising artistic license for the sake of ranking higher on the Google totem pole.