If you’ve been on the internet in the last five years, you may have noticed that all of a sudden, “content” is everywhere. There’s new content, great content, content overload, and there are content creators keeping the whole operation going.
The word “content,” of course, has many meanings across all parts of speech, but the one I’m referring to is the third noun entry here: “the principal substance (such as written matter, illustrations, or music) offered by a website.”
Let me concede off the bat that “content” in its internet usage is a “real word.”*
There’s something about that usage that fascinates and kind of irks me. After all, even though books have had tables of contents for years, no one ever went around talking about how great the “content” was when pointing to a book or a stack of them. That would be bizarre. It would be much more natural to talk about the books more like “I enjoyed this author’s series of mystery novels” or “Congratulations to me, I’ve now read the entirety of the local library’s Dewey Decimal range on peanut butter.”
But something about the internet makes it natural, apparently, for us to jumble everything together and mix it up into the bloodless word “content.” Selfies, Tik-Tok dance videos, ebooks, travel photos by influencers, travel photos by influencers that are actually advertisements for detox toothpaste, beauty tutorials, Nazi tutorials, cat videos, cat photos, treatises on the meaning of life. It’s all just CONTENT.
It’s an anonymous, bland word, like “stuff” or “things,” which implies more about the surroundings than the thing itself. To say something is “content” is to point at the container, just as a beloved implies a lover.
The container is, after all, the point. When I post on Instagram, I create “content” to put inside the container that is Facebook’s alter ego platform, the purpose of which is to serve ads. The ads are a bit of poison stirred into the delicious stew the rest of us make and ask our friends to eat. The more stew we all make, the more poison Facebook can chuck in the pot without killing us. It’s essentially the behavior of a parasite, but it’s one we choose to let feed off of us because—
I mean, there’s some great content out there.
Some of which, I hope you’ll agree, is this blog! Please keep reading. Like and subscriiiibeeeeeeeee
*Scare quotes so you don’t accuse me of being a no-good linguistic prescriptivist (boo, hiss)