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The Creator vs Consumer Paradox
Content Creation in A World of Social Media Addiction
In a bar in Cologne, dressed as a pirate, I danced to old German songs, pretending to know the lyrics as I attempted to sing along. I was at the 2018 Cologne Carnival and hoards of people dressed up in colorful costumes migrated from the rainy street parade into the bar. While everyone sang, danced and drank Kölsch, my hands did the same song and dance they’ve done a thousand times. Reaching for my phone, I lost myself in my thoughts, already reworking the best caption for the photo I was going to take.
Something was different this time though. As I looked out into the crowd, I didn't see what I usually did when I was doing something interesting in the United States. No one else had their phone out. The bar was overflowing with people, and yet not a single person was trying to get a picture for their Instagram. The pervasive need to capture every moment for the internet had not yet reached Cologne. This is when I was pushed out of the matrix, forced to face the fact that I was living for the internet, not the present moment.
A few months later, I deleted all my social media accounts.
Back into the Social Media Matrix
I loved being offline and thought I’d go the rest of my life without logging back in. When I launched my podcast in 2021 though, I found myself at an unexpected crossroad. In launching a podcast, I had not considered marketing at all and social media is a great way to organically reach a wider audience. Enter my existential crisis. How can I be a creator and not get sucked back into the world of social media?
I’m not the first artist to feel the pressure of balancing marketing through social media with creating my craft. In 2022, musicians like Halsey started posting tik toks about how their record companies wanted their song to “go viral” before release. The rise of #BookTok has led publishing companies to request their writers to have a following or post content on Tik Tok before getting published. DJ DiDonna summarizes this feeling well in his LinkedIn Article, when he asks his book agent, “Wait, so if Kim Kardashian wrote a book about sabbaticals,’ I asked, ‘she’d get a book deal, but not me?!”
Kim Kardashian, with her 332 million Instagram followers, would likely get the greenlight to rewrite the Bible if she wanted to. In this day and age, online audiences are worth more than content quality.
Social Media is Addictive
My desire to delete my social media apps in 2018 was based on a desire to live more in the present moment because I never felt good about myself after scrolling for hours.
In the following years, my inclination would be validated by professionals within the social media space who started to expose the harms of all the most popular social media platforms.
In 2020, the documentary, The Social Dilemma, gathered former high level leaders and engineers from all the popular platforms to speak out against the addictive nature of sites like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and even Pinterest. Watching Aza Raskin, the creator of the infinite scroll, express regret for his invention was eye opening to me. He compares the feeling of tugging on the end of your phone, scrolling through posts and until you find one that gives you a laugh and a mini dopamine hit, to the same feeling as pulling a lever on a slot machine.
As someone who first tried to control my use of social media by deleting the apps on my phone, or setting up timers, I felt validated that I was fighting an uphill battle. To ask me to control my usage of social media is a bit absurd when I’m one person fighting a program that the greatest engineering minds created to be addictive. It’s like asking a beginner to play chess against Deep Blue, IBM’s chess playing super computer and then belittling them when they lose.
Now as a creator though, I want to reach an audience online.
What do you do when the medium is also the poison?
Consumption or Addiction
I suspect I’m on the extreme end of addiction. My family has a history of diabetes and if I let myself have one cookie, it turns into a warm cookie with ice cream on top, drizzled with hot fudge and topped with crushed Oreos. So no cookies for me. However, it’s challenging for any person to fight the addictive power of social media. Asking any creator to post on social media is akin to asking someone who has a gambling addiction to pass out flyers in a casino.
For my own sanity, I’m rebelling against this idea that, to be a creator, I have to spend extensive time on social media. But I’m not relying on will power.
Tactics to Limit Consumption
First, I located the source of the addiction and attacked. The Explore page on Instagram and Twitter, as well as the News Feed on Facebook are optimized to provide an endless supply of information you didn’t ask for. I downloaded Chrome extensions like News Feed Eradicator and Antigram to block out these pages and instead pops up a quote, like this by Mae West, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Inspirational, Mae!
Now for me, the addict. My social media hours are predefined and I have a schedule for posting content. Mock up a quick post on Canva, send out a couple tweets. Done. If needed, I engage with my tens of adoring fans and my mom’s inevitable, “this is the best podcast out there” comment.
The last step to fighting the addiction is deleting all the social media apps off my phone to eliminate the habit of mindlessly opening up the apps. Some companies like Instagram have such poor browser experiences, that you’re more likely to chuck your laptop across the room than get addicted. Others have fine browser experiences, but I find scrolling on my laptop less addicting than the delicious dopamine hit I get from my thumb tugging on my little mobile screen.
Low and behold, with these steps, my time on social media has been significantly cut.
Create Good Content
My goal is to create a podcast worth listening to and to write meaningful long form content. I want to respect those precious minutes my audience gives to me.
When you ask for minutes of people’s time instead of seconds, the content has to be good. People can unintentionally give an hour of their attention away if those 3600 seconds are broken down into rotating 15 second videos. That’s part of the reason why short form content can get away with being mediocre. I’ve been that unconscious consumer and my time scrolling feels stolen, not given.
When you ask for 7, 10 or even 60 minutes of a person’s day though, they have a greater expectation from your art. My audience pushes me to be better. Long form content builds deeper relationships and community. This is why Tik Tok artists can have millions of followers, but then no one shows up for their live events. I find even when I enjoy a piece of short form content, I often don’t know the artists behind it. By the time I consider looking them up, the next video has already popped up.
Losing time to mindless consumption of social media does not contribute to my goal of creating great long form content. When I was in that bar in Cologne, I realized that I was no longer living in the present moment and so I made a conscious decision to sign off for what I thought would be forever. As an artist, I find there’s value in social media, but I can put up my art as well as my guardrails. Let’s all be conscious artists.
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