I opened my phone this week to another research-backed article on how women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic disproportionately. I wonder if there’s a new angle I could bring to the topic. I’d already written about a similar study in the past.
“Sexual harassment at work continues even when working from home” a headline reads. Ugh, I think for a moment, before noting down a title I think will be catchy.
There’s a piece of good news that stands out in the sea of bleak gloom! I allow myself a surprised moment of joy, and quickly forward a link to my team. “We should cover this”, I type, and move on.
Meanwhile, I know that every article I write will be measured in terms of its ‘metrics’ – how many views, likes and shares it got. Those of us who took to writing because they realized they were hopeless with numbers, will find that in an increasingly data driven world and work environment, one cannot escape numbers. Numbers will hunt you down and have their way with you. More often than not, you will end up acceding to them. Why? Because your salary, like everything else, is also a number!
So what does it mean to be an online creator today?
Today, when studies show that people spend more than a quarter of the day on their devices, social media is a “side hustle”, memes can be monetised, content is consumed daily, and everyone, everywhere, all the time, is expressing themselves online – what does it mean to be someone who creates and puts out content for a living?
Has the fast-paced content creation business turned us all into SEO-obsessed robots devoid of empathy, or even sympathy?
In looking for the next most “clickable” headline, or video trend to hop on to, online content creators have tended to use increasingly thick blinkers in their headlong rush towards likes, shares, and subscribes.
Sometimes, all this results in is an entertaining watch or read for the audience, and mildly bruised integrity for the creator.
Other times, this ethical and empathetic disconnect from what is being put out can be dangerous to the morality of the creator, as well as that of an impressionable audience.
We witnessed the dark hole that journalistic ethics could spiral down, most recently during the Rhea Chakraborty case. Putting out an exclusive, “clickbaity” update or footage, was put above any show of humanity, compassion, desire for truth, or journalistic boundaries, by most media agencies.
In the sphere of more “soft” content, influencers promote unethical or harmful products in their content to comply with sponsorship deals. Writers put out harmful content in the guise of controversially unconventional opinions. YouTubers try, and condone, harmful challenges or trends for “the views”.
The disregard and disconnect in a lot of what is being put out today is obvious – so obvious and rampant, that the audience has grown to treat it as natural.
For some creators, not allowing themselves to emotionally invest stems not from a disregard for the audience or materialistic superficiality, but more from a conscious need to protect themselves.
For example, if you search for the word “girls” in Google News, there is a new report of a rape case of a minor girl (or girls) every morning. There’s a new disheartening story that highlights inequality every day. If we, as content creators, allowed ourselves to go down an emotional spiral with every new story, we wouldn’t have the mental energy to bring relevant content to our audiences.
The disconnect, then, for many, is also a self-defence stemming from an unconscious hardening.
How to be an online creator and remain human?
The pace with which creators are creating and audiences are consuming is… not sustainable, to say the least. This pace is dictated not by the rate at which creators are struck by inspiration and desire to create, but by market dynamics. It is incentivized by media platforms and advertisers who have everything to gain from us spending more and more time online.
However, subscription based models are providing an alternative to the eyeball based model, and if they become the strongholds of the content consumption economy, content creators might be able to go back to a ‘less is more’ creation ethic.
Until that happens, here are a few ways that have helped me learn to ensure that I engage with the content I am creating in a way that is empathetic, in line with my ethics, and most importantly – human.
(Continue reading below)
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1. Discuss before you create
It can become easy to fall into the habit of finding or thinking of content that is “consumable” without actually reflecting on your thoughts and emotions regarding it.
The best way to prevent this is to have a conversation with someone, or a group of someones, about the topic you’re considering creating content on.
This could be your team at work, friends, family, or even online discussion spaces. Initiating a discussion on the subject will not only give you a chance to hear and understand different perspectives, but also inevitably encourage you to talk about your views.
This will not help your content be more nuanced once it’s created, but also help you engage with your content, and ensure you have a real relationship with it, even before you create it.
2. Create for yourself
Take time out to create for yourself. If you’re a writer by profession, for example, make sure you take out time every week, or even every day, to write for no one but yourself. Start by writing about anything you’re thinking or feeling, to stay in tune with yourself. Go on to write about anything interesting you came across recently, that you didn’t have the time to really dwell on before.
This will help you stay in touch with your voice and opinions. Finally, try to write something on the same topics that you wrote on at work. Compare how you write when it’s just for your eyes, and how you write when your content goes up online for everyone to see. Where and why does your writing differ? Is it possible to retain and incorporate some of that uninhibited you when writing for an audience as well?
3. Engage personally with the people who consume your content
This will help you see them as people, not as numbers. Seeing them as receivers who are influenced by what you put out, will help you focus on what really matters – how you make people think and feel.
Ultimately, this will also make you a better creator.
4. Start or join a group in your field
If you’re a writer, start or join a writer’s group where the focus is on reading, writing and giving each other feedback. There are groups, clubs, workshops, and meets, both online and offline, for all areas of content creation. Find one so you can personally engage with other creators in your field, their content, and the content sphere.
5. Create a pattern of reinforcement to call yourself out
If you find yourself scrolling past something important, just because you can’t create anything on it, make yourself scroll back up to read or watch it fully. Stop yourself from pitching ideas and topics at work that you don’t feel connected to. If there’s a topic you feel the team should create something on, pitch it and suggest that someone else write on it, or initiate a nuanced conversation on it. If there’s something positive to create content on, allow yourself to revel in the positivity. The positivity you feel during the process of creating will translate into the quality of the content.
If you catch yourself making an effort to remain human, be empathetic, and stay invested in the content you’re creating, reward yourself – though the process itself is sure to be rewarding in the long run.
The solution is not to stop creating – never to stop creating – but to create in a way that helps you stay in touch with who you are, without drowning your humanity in the sea of content being created. The goal is to help your audience feel the same.
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