The tyranny of content

tweetsI’ve been thinking a lot about what makes people interesting, appealing, and otherwise connection-worthy online in general. A recent conversation with a friend or two about this reminded me that for many, especially in platforms like Twitter, content is king – at least in name.

Those we want to follow on Twitter ostensibly post “cool stuff.” The blogs we read provide interesting strings of words, with interesting links. Content, not form. Especially as we begin to merge our blog feeds, Twitter updates, Facebook posts, email…. form becomes less and less important. We chase after the good video or absorbing article largely uncaring which of our many connections served as the source of discovery. We let the world know we’re bored, or happy it’s Friday, or worried about politics in one form, link it to the other forms (often automatically), and move among these digital platforms, bop bop bop.

So much of what I see folks post of Twitter and FB, for example, is pretty trivial (“booo Monday!”), but peppered with the Impressive Content by the cool kids. And they are cool because they find the good articles, songs, videos, etc.

Me, by that definition? I’m not so cool. I’ve never been a content collector, never really been all that great at digging up the funky unknown bands or ferreting out the insightful independent news site. I love to read that stuff, but I’m never really the one who goes searching.

Thus, the tyranny of content. The process, by this view, is not important, but rather the nuggets of stuff themselves. Indeed, some measure the appeal of friends and acquaintances by the volume of cool stuff they contribute. I am certainly the type to respond happily to people who introduce me to cool new information and ideas, but there’s something  about this process that bothers me.

I think I am swayed by notions of communication that encourage us to think of the exchange, not the specific words (content) as the true act of communicating. We develop interactions where meaning is created between/among us, and the vocabulary, facts, links, etc. are merely components of that, not the sum total of that communication. It is the act of exchange – the process – wherein the communication is found.

And now to bring this idea back to WoW, which is, after all, the “content” of this blog. My contributions in FB, Twitter, etc. are rarely cool links. More, I’m not as interested in things that people post as I am sucked in by the exchange itself – the process. In WoW, I am largely the same. I’m not contributing top DPS/heals, the best gear, the best items. In short, I’m not adding much to my guild’s content.

Instead, I think I add to the process.

I like to think I’m kind of fun to have around. I like to think that my participation in conversations, my good instruction-following skills, the fun I have when raiding, even in repeated wipes, is part of why that is. I’m certainly not adding much stuff. But adding that fun to the process is important to me. Similarly, I value greatly those players who do the same. It’s handy to have high DPS, good tanks, effective heals. But the raids are fun because of the process, not the content.

So am I a good player? Not in terms of content, probably. Am I a good person to follow on Twitter? Well, probably only if you like reading this blog – I don’t post much else, I confess. FB? I make a lot of comments on others’ posts – I engage more of the exchange than post links myself.

Maybe this means that I depend on others to provide the content, while I get to bask in the fruits of their hard won gear/web surfing/reading. And for sure, without that gear/link/video there wouldn’t be much to kill/read/watch. So I do try to gear myself up some, to post a cool link or two, do a bit of my part.

But I’m an ideas gal. I like the debate, the jokes, the discussion, the strategies. That’s really what I bring to the table more than factoids and purples. Certainly it takes all types. But at the end of the day, what do you remember? The details of that article or boss fight? Or the process of sharing with friends?

My conversations with some people in WoW are pretty content-heavy. They enjoy re-hashing a specific fight, all the technical details, how much DPS they did, where they had to stand, how to get around a boss’s funky power. But…. I confess those conversations are a tad boring to me. Honestly, I can only hear about the numbers roll for defeating Freya so many times.

It kind of reminds me of sitting around discussing baseball stats. Which makes me realise that a) that’s a boy culture in the US, far more than a girl culture; and b) some of those folks really do love to discuss that stuff.

But.

Is it really the content? Or is it the exchange? Is a numbers-crunching debate interesting because of the numbers, or because of the debate?

I think it’s the debate. And I’m sticking with it.

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9 responses to “The tyranny of content

  1. there is no debate without the numbers. it’s not either the debate or the numbers.

    the numbers clearly are not the end point. but without them, there is no discursive object to gather around, to form a connection. it’s the currency for trading, sharing.

    of course we can still talk, but isn’t it so much better if we have something cool to talk about, or to exchange something cool /as/ talk?

  2. @ trickster Most definitely the numbers are necessary. I guess my question is more about “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” type thing. Absolutely it’s better if we have something cool to talk about, but I think that a mere exchange of numbers (rather than, say, a debate, disagreement, or argument) is tedious.

    Again, sociolinguists say that “masculine” styles of communication tend to be more in the form of statement-statement, rather than statement-response – in other words, men are socialized to announce a series of facts, while women are socialized to take up such statements and comment on them, work with them.

    So the statements are crucial (they are, in a sense, a kind of required stimulus), but to me, the joy is in the exchange they stimulate. That suggests that the statements themselves are almost (but not quite) arbitrary. Almost because a wide range of statements can evoke interesting exchanges. Not quite because, like you, I vastly prefer the interesting stuff to the banal in sparking that exchange.

    But… there are certainly those who find exchange around the best hairstyles and shoes, or the latest football score extremely engaging.

    But I prefer a Harvard lecture on global internet communities, myself.

  3. This is always an endless debate because there are people that prefer the process and there are people that prefer the details. It’s often funny to watch the two types have a discussion because one will be trying to broaden the topic, making analogies of how this situation can be applied to similar cases, while the other is trying to narrow it down, getting to the heart of exactly what is going on in this instance. They can be talking about the same thing, but miss each others point completely.

    I too am a process person. So much so that I forget details, even names, of common things:

    Me: Get me a… um.. thing in the kitchen, something to sit on.
    Wife: a chair?
    Me: Yes! A chair, please.

    The content debate follows a similar vein. There are people that create content; the ones that are always looking for people to run instances, or do PvP, or raid some town. Then there are poeple that work inside that content to make it go smoothly, going where they need to without being told, etc.

    I think these two types also talk past each other on a lot of subjects. I knew a guy that believes throw ten people into a raid and we’ll make it work. So he tosses 10 people into Naxx, and they can’t get down spider wing, and he just doesn’t understand why. My mind boggles. I can’t even express words to him at what all he did wrong, and even if I could, he wouldn’t understand what I was talking about.

    Creating the content isn’t enough, it’s what people do with it that ultimately matters. You need both.

    I was recently (two days ago) voted in as guild leader of my guild. Many things happened to get us to this point, but this is where we are now.

    As I mentioned, I’m a process person, but a guild leader is supposed to be a content provider, right? I’m hoping that I can devise a process where others can create thier own content for the guild, and I can be there to make sure it runs smoothly.

  4. @ Copernicus First of all, I think i’m just like you – I am constantly forgetting the details, including the names of the basics (I really have been known to forget the word for table…. :) So I guess it makes sense I would be a process person.

    But I acutally disagree on the role of a guild master. I think the members provide the content, and you provide the process. You do the organizing, the politicking, the smoothing of the ruffled feathers, the coordination. A good GM, ultimately, is one who can make the process of a raid go smoothly by selecting the right content and working their coordination well.

    I think you’ll be doing a bang-up job :)

  5. there is no cool content without cool people, but there are no cool people without cool content either. ;-)

  6. Ahhhh, a post! I thought you’d been oddly quiet (not that I’m nagging).

    I’m horrendously old-fashioned (really, it’s a wonder I have a blog at all) and I’m especially bad an engaging in new ways of accessing what you call content.

    Take twitter for example.

    Witness this look of blank incomprehension on my face.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware it Has A Place And Does A Thing but it holds no appeal to me whatsoever. I know it’s self-consciously and deliberately “shallow” – but it’s like a stream of consciousness for the entire of the world, and I have a hard time caring.

    If I was feeling all Bartle about it, I suppose I’d say it comes down to types of engagement rather than the nature of content versus process. Some people – the cool kids as you call them – are like squirrels on machine guns, y’know, they horde up links to cool stuff and then pepper them across the face of the internet.

    Equally, in WoW, some people have that kind fo collector-mentality – they farm things, they grind, they log in for special acheivements or whatever. But that’s just one way, among any, of engaging with the game, in as much as posting a bunch of cool links on twitter is a way of engaging with the internet.

    And ultimately if no-one was writing thoughtful blog posts or suggesting fun things to do in the game world … then … well, they’d be nothing to link to and the game would be dull.

    Sorry this is hugely rambling and tangential.

  7. I have yet to see any kind of interesting twittering. To me it’s just pointless cryouts in the void. And what worse – the more time and effort people put into this thing (where linking hardly can be the same thing as providing real content), the less time and energy will they put into for instance blogging. You know, sharing thoughts with some substance in it.

    Yeah, I’m terribly old, I’m terribly crumpy. And it probably isolates me from socializing with the WoW blogosphere. But this kind of social media just isn’t for me.

    I’m back at the schoolyard, seeing the other kids playing, not knowing how to participate – and probably not wanting to eitther.

    :(

  8. @larisa i mostly feel that twitter is self-serving. you can surf twitter and never contribute to your own feed and you are just as important to the process. you can also just post to your own feed and never surf anyone elses and you are still just as important, and its all based on your personal preference. some people find twitter completely appalling because they don’t care themselves or don’t believe that people SHOULD care about other people (half of whom they don’t know) and what they are doing in ways like that. maybe this appalling feeling that lots of people have comes from things we’re taught very young about privacy/minding your own business? or that keeping yourself to yourself and leaving others to themselves is a self-protection mechanism? or we’re taught that glorifying trival things is stupid because there must be FAR more important things to spend your time doing. (i disagree, because the fact IS that we spend the majority of our time doing trivial things, and i think by getting excited by only those really “important” moments of days/lives we actually miss out on the bulk of life’s meaning! :) )

    but i digress from wow here…so lets get back on track….

    the truth is that there are many, many people who have that innate interest in knowing things, knowing anything really (i.e., what you ate for a snack). Probably for various reasons, but for me its because it helps me paint that ever-evolving picture of people in my head. this is why you could tell me anything really, talk about anything, and it has value to me even if it seems so trivial. because, whatever it is a person talks about they are doing it for a reason, even if its not very important, and it all explains something about who the person is. even if you’re sitting there rambling on about something that you haven’t even entirely figured out and it seems to make no sense at all and have no relation to anything, because that’s still a really important part of who you are is how you figure things out.

    likewise, any interaction, even trivial, in wow is valuable really (achievements, raids, sitting afk in dalaran just chatting, questing, dance parties) because they all contribute to how i define myself and how others define me through this game.

    SO, there are a couple of points here:

    1) it IS that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in wow, because everything contributes to your user experience.

    2) you can define the content (by seeking out raids/achieve/quests/danceparties) or you can let others do it for you (by waiting for them to ask you to come). sometimes you might be one way sometimes you might be another, but you’re probably dominantly one way or the other (kind of like personality types).

    3) i don’t think you have to have both content and process to be happy, but i think to have the most rich experience in wow you need to have both. and this is something that i’ve actually struggled with.

    Why? Well, I am naturally a content-seeker. I like to DO stuff and make */&$ happen. a few months back i switched to a new server and guild and fell into this ***very*** weird place of waiting for others to create the content for me (invite me to raids, mostly, and talk to me). I was not happy, although there is plenty of other content in the game that I was participating in (bgs, quests, achieves). I *felt* like i was missing out on a chunk of what wow is and it made me sad.

    And you may ask yourself, well why didn’t i just pug more dungeons and raids to get to experience the content? Plenty of people do that and they are fine. There are so many independent players. Well, i did pug some stuff, but it just wasn’t the same. It’s like a one night stand (which probably has it’s own value, but…)

    The guild is supposed to be a really important part of your wow life. To hold the same kind of wow place as your family or your boyfriend does in rl. And I wasn’t getting ANY part of the process of interacting with them to develop/find out WHO the hell they are! I took some initiative and since remedied this (it took me several months though, which i am wholly confused about?), and I am much happier because I am participating in the process.

    Throughout my agony i could never really define what was bothering me so much, and I don’t think i really did make that definition until right now. But for me it is clear that in wow I need both. Because I also neeeeeed to be seeking out better gear and harder fights (when i’m properly prepared to succeed at/in them of course), and neeeeeeed to be chattty chatty about trivial things, and neeeeeeed to quest and get achievements. But its also clear that even if I have that content, it means less to me without the process. But when it’s just the process (like when i’m in an epic fail raid and noone seems to care) its soooo frustrating. But all in all i think the process is the heart of the wow experience.

    ramble, done. :)

  9. @ Tamarind I know, I’ve been neglecting my blogosphere, here. (but spent hours yesterday catching up and laughing hysterically at your blog :). As for Twitter, I kind of feel the way you do, except I just started posting my current blog entries there, and once in a blue moon will post something else, but not much. Basically, it’s a handy marketing tool, but not easy for me to do other things with it. (and ps, not rambling :)

    @ Larisa That’s exactly how i felt about Twitter at first, and although i saw my reporter friend and my middle-school teacher friend use it in ideal ways, i just couldn’t figure out how II would use it. Then, as i say, i just started posting my most recent blog headline and some evocative thing, which def. worked for me. I’m still not all that active, but it’s handy.

    @ 1. Well I’m glad you figured some of that out! WoW really is frustrating without a sense of what you want from it, what it gets you, and what you enjoy in it. I think that’s why I’ve written here so many posts about motivations – I still puzzle over it sometimes, but getting into the process does help me.

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