x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The future of content may not be as rosy as how it gets distributed

I have a nightmare vision of a dystopian future, where there's only one person actually writing stuff, but there are 50 million others moving this stuff across the internet, from one 'content aggregator' to another.

Print media is dead, or so scream the tech-savvy whizz kids into their app-liking touch-screen online cellular MySpace devices. It's a line I've heard a few times, to which I usually respond in the only manner fit and proper for any journalist worth his salt: I put my fingers in my ears and go "la la la" very loudly.

While it may be true that many of us are now "consuming the news" digitally, I think there'll always be something that the newspaper has over anything on a screen. (And if you're reading this column online, you're missing out on the hilarious cut-out-and-keep models that come with the physical edition.)

Although I'll always be flying the flag for print, I have noticed a distinct change in behaviour over the years. This whole social-media-revolution thing has brought us Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Pinterest, Mashable, Dashable, Donner and Blixen - all lovely, shiny services for sharing stuff across the world with just one quick click.

And that's it these days - sharing. Not actually creating stuff - you know, the good old-fashioned making, writing, recording of genuine "content" . But simply providing increasingly elaborate manners in which it can be distributed online, along with an ever-growing array of options for how it can then be passed on again, be it with a tweet, a like, a digg, a plus one or a high five (OK, I made that one up). News stories now appear to be followed by a vast library of "sharing" options, each with their own colourful cutesy logo and hipster-friendly name. If someone had told me they had "tweeted" a story of mine a few years ago, I'd have spat in their face. Now, I'm expected to embrace them (perhaps with a Facebook "like").

Truth be told, I am a bit of a hater when it comes to the likes of Twitter (and to understand just how, you can follow me at @alexritman). Having had a good look around, I can safely say that at least 99 per cent of regular tweeters out there are simply forwarding on (sorry, I mean retweeting) other people's stories, often with a sarcastic comment that is almost always about as intelligent and/or amusing as athlete's foot. Back in the day, being a writer or journalist was considered cool(ish). The "in thing" now, it seems, is to simply be a "content conduit".

It'd be funny if, much like the children's game Chinese Whispers, each time a story was shared via social media, a word was secretly deleted or changed, so by the time a headline report about falling house prices was tweeted for the umpteenth time, it would be magically transformed into a story about a dwarf being attacked by a tin of sardines (or something).

I have a nightmare vision of a dystopian future, where there's only one person actually writing stuff, but there are 50 million others then moving this stuff across all known corners of the internet, from one "content aggregator" to another, giving people the opportunity to add their own (mostly illiterate) comment underneath before passing it on to others for further regurgitation.

Let's hope it doesn't happen. But if it does (and I'm not that one person), expect to see something along the lines of "Ritman This" at the bottom of any article. If you can't beat 'em …

aritman@thenational.ae

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