Trash Sells, And You’re Buying

The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy can’t decrease in an isolated system. Think of entropy as the variety of ways something can be arranged, or more easily, disorder. Life, then, is a constant effort to be in a low entropy state. Education is (supposed to be) the acquisition and organization of knowledge and skills to reduce the entropy of information.

Low entropy information transmission is extraordinarily valuable. Companies pay astronomical amounts for analytics services to organize and extract meaning from data to be sold to advertising companies seeking the demographics that will best respond to a particular marketing campaign.

There exists an almost unlimited amount of information, easily retrieved and free of charge and of varying levels of quality. Modern communications technology has enabled mass agglomeration and transmission of information. It is highly disorganized and entropic. Much of it has no value, and no cost. Low entropy, high value information transmission will always have a cost. This “cost” need not be financial. It can be the creator’s effort to create high-value work. It can be the consumer’s effort to be able to understand and utilize high-value information.

In “new media”, value is not correlated with profitability. The focus is on virality (may not be a recognized word yet), and therefore the objective is to generate as much content as possible with no respect to value. It’s a numbers game. In a highly entropic system like social media, the only way to stay relevant is to constantly pump content out and hope that something, quite literally, infects the platform.

Garbage in, garbage out. Aside from those selling ad space, no one is better off for it.

This is why millions of fingers and thumbs turn into incontinent verbal sphincters and spew shit onto keyboards on a daily basis. The machine has to keep chugging. The first two laws of thermodynamics establish that a perpetual motion machine is impossible. There’s no way to totally eliminate energy loss. Likewise, there’s no perpetual production in “new media”. Something goes viral, people consume it, people attempt to imitate it, and the collective value of created content goes down.

Some clever people realized that this could be lucrative. They made websites, with names like “Consciousness Compendium” and “SawEat”. They tapped into a wealth of content generators, graduating from Xanga Tech and LiveJournal State University, eager to see their names on someone else’s page.

I am not a writer, professionally or otherwise. I am a human who is capable of putting words on a page. That makes me no more of a writer than singing off-key in the shower makes one a singer. Calling yourself a singer, or writer, or pianist, implies some level of above-average competence in communicating through those media. Doing it professionally should imply an exceptional competence.

The issue here, in what Madison Moore called the “attention economy”, is that exceptional competence doesn’t sell. That requires too much effort from the audience and in turn, falsely reinforces in the generators the idea that they produce high-value information. Instead, headline grabbing of questionable veracity sells. Throw it at the wall, and see what sticks. In reality, it’s entropy. It’s wasted energy that should be turned to something better. By definition, it can’t go on forever.

As consumers, you can all demand more. TC Mark

image – purplepix


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