You are advertisement – the West’s Art of the Scam

You are advertisement.

Something that most facebook users have long since accepted becomes routine in most internet ventures. Clicks and views are virtual currency and, above a certain volume, actual currency. The user is the viral carrier of advertisements.

It seems like the drug dream of an advertising executive. Everyone can be stickered with ads now. Everyone can be persistently chased by intelligent advertisement. It is less stylish but just as devious as the scene from Minority Report where everyone entering a store is immediately beset by a holographic hostess. Some ads even speak or blare music at you until you find the (often viciously displaced) X to make it – temporarily – disappear.

But, make no mistake, you are advertisement. And you are entirely complicit in it. You helped create the virus that you carry.

Using social media one no longer transfers information, but becomes, both actively and passively, a transmitter of advertisements. You might passively advertise your life-style or your work or your taste in movies, restaurants or video games. You might actively advertise, sending out interesting links or actually advertise your work. In the language of many bloggers “content” actually “masks” the intent: garnering precious page views.

I was briefly writing for an online article platform that will remain unnamed (no free advertisement here). In order to achieve page views one had to study the market and pick a topic that would generate a high number of clicks, aka something that everyone is interested in. In the long run this led to a slew of articles designed only to generate page views – one began to write not thinking of how to satisfy the audience but how to adhere to the limitations of search engines. One literally became a trained monkey hitting away on the typewriter, hoping but not really caring to churn out something worthwhile. One was asked to write a lot, not to get better as a writer but to create “content”. If one publishes a large number of articles it becomes more likely for the search engines to pick one up – casting those strange mindless algorhythms in the roles of highly undiscerning editors. What the content was didn’t really matter. There were people checking it for errors and typography, but they were badly paid editors who, if one was lucky, were dutiful or, if one was unlucky, internet cholerics. It was up to the user to create something worthwhile or something filled with “content”. One also had to pick one’s field, niche or genre, in a communistic version of a newspaper office. If one picked an “uninteresting” niche there was little to no chance of ever achieving a high number of page views. An interesting niche equaled the front page news of an actual newspaper, but since it was created “democratically” it ended up entirely middle class without exciting or offbeat points of view. The intent was to create something between a newsfeed and Wikipedia, but most of the articles were culled from either various newsfeeds or badly digested Wikipedia articles, offering the depth of a puddle after gentle spring rains.

The most perfidious thing about it, though, was that it was in the best interest of every user to advertise their articles by themselves to create more page views. Of course by doing so they were advertising the site. The site had thereby created a host of people who were both unpaid writers and advertisers, since only those who wrote thirty articles and more a month actually stood any chance of gaining any money from it.

The process, of course, mimics the rise of an intern to a full-time journalist with all the hurdles inherent to it. But it is mimicry, because the message boards were full with messages of people who like exhausted workers kept asking each other if any of them had ever been paid and if yes, if it was more than 10 Euro.

I’ve been in Asia long enough to know a scam when I see it and you, sir, have just been made advertisement. It might be a high class scam and probably one that many people would argue is a legit business venture, but we seem to live in a post-Orwellian world anyway where machines and the moods of numbers determine our own rise and fall. “Content” can be safely ignored in favour of numbers and masks. It’s a high class scam, all the more perfidious because everyone is implicit in it.

As long as I am advertisement, I’ve decided to advertise the things that I do because I love doing them. Who can read something without content?

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