In 1996 Bill Gates penned an article posted to the Microsoft website titled “Content is King.”
In the article, Gates stated that “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.” He continued, “When it comes to an interactive network such as the Internet, the definition of “content” becomes very wide.”
The essay points out what we now know as fact. Content is king. But, Gates inadvertently posed a more important question about how our perspective changes the definitions of things we see as truth. Gates pointed out that the assumed definition of terminology like “content” is actually fluid and based on the context.
Social media meets social climate
We’re ten years into the social media revolution. And, it’s left us with a dizzying amount of content that defines and often muddles most of our social interactions.
News is also entertainment.
Discourse is right or wrong, and constructive conversation or critical questioning becomes an infringement on personal freedom.
When the world shut down, isolation piqued our indulgence in the constant drip of new content. From streaming platforms to social media, we turned to arts-driven content as escapism from a world we no longer understood. We searched for ways to keep us connected, distracted, and engaged during a confusing and turbulent time. The arts served as solace from the stripped veneer of a social and economic system that had been wobbling like a three-legged stool propped up by an old textbook on 20th-century economics.
After months of ingesting content, the overwhelming and sometimes paralyzing decision of “What do I watch next?” has pushed the curation conversation front and center. Gone are the days of churning out content for the sake of content. If necessity is the mother of invention then curation has bumped content and taken its place as king.
Curation came into vogue in the contemporary fine art scene in the early ’70s. In 1969 Henry Geldzahler became the first “star curator” after putting together an exhibition on “New York Painters and Sculptors of 1940-1970,” which launched artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, and David Hockney. Curators were the tastemakers—mining and pairing talent on a platter for critics to digest and critique.
Curation works in art discourse because of its basis in art history. Curators are students of history that utilize content to create a narrative. 21st century culture muddied the line between marketing, social media, art, and commerce into a blurred interpretation at best. The definition of critique was boiled down by tech companies into algorithms.
But, what happens when social media platforms become streaming content platforms? And, advertising dollars and social currency drive curation instead of historical research?
What is social currency?
Social currency, likes, shares and retweets
Social currency broadly speaks to the weight of who likes and shares that content. The person or brand attributed to a like or share carries a different value. If you’re a musician and Beyoncé likes your post, it holds more currency than if your mom went on a “deep like” binge. The hierarchy this inherently develops within social platforms is a scary stepchild of curation. Our feed is “curated” for us by tech companies and refined again based on our interactions on those platforms.
From the content we “like” to the time we spend looking at a photo or video, each interaction is noted to create a more refined feed. What started as marketing tabulations has already made the first strides into physical currency for selected content creators on social media platforms in the form of real dollars.
When greed dictates content, we all lose
In the land of film and tv, we’re at the oversaturation point and in dire need of thoughtful curation. Technology companies like Netflix have relegated themselves to turning out content based on marketing dollars connected to algorithms that match previously digested content. This leaves us with a mountain of saccharin easily digestible dribble that indulges us in the same way fast food does. It’s a quick dopamine hit that matches our wants but isn’t healthy for us. (Adam Sandlers, Hubie Halloween is a prime example of content we don’t need.)
Instead, we’re left watching a new version of the same thing sending us down an indulgent rabbit hole.
Moreover, the audience is tired of it, and the content bubble it sits on is ready to burst. We don’t want more, more, more – we want better.
We want thoughtful curation.
Social currency and curation IRL
The advent of social media gave rise to ‘content creators’ and quantifiable social currency. Sci-fi tv shows like Black Mirror addressed the idea of social currency or social credit in an episode titled “Nosedive,” which ranked people from 1-5 based on each interaction they had. The scores would impact the person’s socioeconomic and economic status. The sliding scale of social credit into currency (which denotes monetary value to certain people perceived by the masses as more desirable) seems appetizing in a polarizing and often confusing world of fake news and the social media landscape.
In 2014 China announced a plan to roll out a “social credit system” by 2020, which would rank their citizen’s behavior based on a vast secret methodology. A credit score for social interactions.
The next decade will see the transition of content creators into content curators
Content creation, curation, and social media have left us with a moral dilemma in a society increasingly run by a visual language. The curator’s traditional role is to create a larger, more diverse conversation rooted in history and culture. So, what happens when the higher purpose of curation increases profit margins instead of building a more robust discussion?
Is socially-conscious streaming our last line of defense?
Socially-conscious driven content implicates the public as much as the supposed critique-driven “academy.”
If the hierarchy for critique is only populated with one segment we inherently build in a bias. Moreover, curation without a basis in art history and culture isn’t curation. It’s marketing.
Kaeley is a contemporary artist and cultural organizer who loves good espresso and a cold Coke Zero.