Viral content travels way too fast and covers much wider ground for traditional media forms to keep pace. This is why traditional print, TV and radio have become less and less successful in getting the large chunk of the audience they used to have.
Back in the 70s, Alvin Toffler’s book “Future Shock” asked people to get used to an ever-accelerating future. People eventually got used to the rapid acceleration of everything hence. Now we are all engulfed in its all-consuming present. So much so that it has become harder and harder to capture the reader or the viewer’s attention. You might be convinced that this is all about information overload but it’s not. It’s more of information filter failure.
This seems to be the result of our human reaction to living in a real-time, instantaneous, simultaneous, always on, timeless, goalless, and post-linear reality. This happens to be the prefect description of the world mobile device users and online tech users thrive in.
Right here, right now
Now that everything seems to be going in the direction of content production; from advertisers to publishers to brands and retail mongers and the like, the available content readily accessible to the vast number of users worldwide could only make present shock inevitable for many. Those unfamiliar with this change are those you expect to be freaked out by its speed and its tendency to be fleeting and immaterial. There are particular reasons that justify this observation:
- The digital happens in the now. Content providers are constantly catering to readers and at the same time monitoring the results. Everything could be considered to be being done a la carte so much so that we find ourselves in a place where people would always want to be able to make a choice at every single place.
- People have begun to read in such a way that they read only to dismiss. Information seekers and the average mobile device reader don’t read in order to get what’s on the page but would rather do so to be able to feel entitled to dismiss whatever’s on the page. Reading then becomes an action being done just to get over something — be the media critic everyone’s now entitled to be.
- The digital universe is temporal and conceptual. Writing for the web involves a totally different set of literary sensibilities. Therefore the various forms of written content would always be temporal and conceptually compressed to fit the here and now reality of the infrastructure. Books could take months and years to write. Crafting a clever tweet doesn’t need to be written in such a way.
What needs to count
Literary work of any nature, be it for traditional publishing or for the web (content) needs to remain relevant to its main reason for existence — that is of being of practical use to the reader and the user of information. Your work ceases to be mere commodity the moment someone else reads it because you wrote it or because your brand published it. The writer or content creator needs to be aware about the challenge: How to show people that making a choice is actually engaging, entertaining and valuable. The lessons for content creators are thus clear:
- Speak about new things with the authority of history.
- Do not hurry into generic expression.
- Understand the value of appropriate compression.
- Be reflective or timely depending on the need to be either.
What counts in the end is the relevance of whatever you write to the reader or viewer long after the first Google result gets through to them.