dark side content

The dangerous power of addictive content: the dark side of the content marketing industry

Meet Chris Content. Chris is an average twenty-something male working an unremarkable office job in an unremarkable corner of the Western world.

Every day, Chris wakes up at 7am so that he’ll make it to work on time. The first thing he does upon switching off his alarm is to open his email app and check his inbox. Sometimes, he’ll even answer urgent emails right there, even though he hasn’t had breakfast yet. While he’s at it, he’ll skim the morning news and the latest Facebook gossip as well. He has an app for both of those, too.

On the bus on the way to the office, Chris checks his email again. The commute is boring, so he sometimes reads blog posts or plays online games to pass the time. He’ll also spend some time on WhatsApp catching up with friends, who are on equally unremarkable commutes to equally unremarkable offices.

As an office worker, Chris spends almost all his working hours in front of his computer screen, sending emails and preparing admin for management. He doesn’t like his colleagues much, so he’s stopped taking lunch with them. Instead, he prefers to eat lunch alone in front of Youtube or whatever series he’s watching at the present moment. He’s pretty meh about his job as well, so he continues to check Facebook and WhatsApp for interesting distractions throughout the day — sometimes several times an hour. In this way, he only actually works productively for around 2 hours each day.

In the evening, Chris decides to spend some time working on a personal issue with his girlfriend before winding down for the evening. So he does what all millennials do when they have a problem: turn to the Internet for advice. He posts about his relationship problem on anonymous forums, where his questions are answered by anonymous commenters who he has never met in real life. Sometimes, he searches the Internet for solutions as well. He prefers videos to blog posts, as the latter require too much effort to read.

If Chris feels overwhelmed by problems that seem unsolvable, he’ll procrastinate by going on Youtube, where he is greeted by a never-ending supply of content that is tailored specifically to his individual interests so that he never gets bored. Numbing his feelings in this way comes second nature to him. He might also jack off to Internet porn as well as a way of destressing.

After an evening meal in front of Youtube, Chris takes his laptop to bed with him. There, he’ll check emails one last time (or at least that’s what he tells himself) and play some online games to unwind after his stressful day at the office. By this point, his eyes are feeling pretty strained; they even water sometimes. He keeps telling himself that he’ll get back into reading some time, but somehow the books he reads are never quite as captivating as the endless stimulation he gets from online games.

Around 1am, Chris checks his emails one final time and even responds to urgent messages that can’t wait until tomorrow morning. When he finally closes his laptop, he takes a while to get to sleep, because the artificial light confuses his body into thinking that it’s earlier in the day.

In total, Chris has spent 15 hours on the computer, and less than 30 minutes talking to people in real-life.

Content addiction is worryingly normal

Although this might seem like a parody, Chris faces a plight that is all too common in the modern world. One of the greatest ironies of modern technology is that we have more ways than ever before to connect to our fellow man, yet feel more disconnected than at any other time in human history. Real life simply cannot compete with the endless dopamine stimulation from apps, videos, news and instant messaging — so we live online.

To be sure, the Internet remains an incredible tool to make our lives easier, but humans are still adjusting to the new world. Our bodies and brains have not evolved for a world of permanent stimulation.

To say this way of life is unhealthy is a gross understatement. Humans are social animals: we need contact with other human beings. In a society in which people live sedentary lives in front of screens, rates of obesity, depression and anxiety skyrocket. If we live online, it’s easy to neglect our real-world lives; things like cooking, cleaning, sport and socialising all too often fall by the wayside. This puts us at risk for further health problems later in life.

While it is up to individuals to determine and regulate their consumption of content, the content marketing industry bears a significant responsibility for the present state of the online landscape. Too many businesses pursue addictive content at the expense of content that is informative and adds value. Yes, it’s great for drawing customers in and keeping them engaged, but the individuals engaged in producing this sort of content need to stop and think about the sort of world they are creating.

I’m taking a stand

As someone who has seen elements of Chris’ life in my own life over the last few years, I’ve decided that enough is enough.

1) Content should be informational, not addictive or mindless

I’m not going to work with any clients who want to produce cheap, addictive online content. I’ve not had many such clients anyway, as I gravitate towards producing long-form, informational content, but I’m going to draw a line in the sand. Any leads I generate relating to this sort of content will be rejected.

2) I’m quitting the Internet at home

My home Internet contract is about to expire. I was going to get a new one, but instead I see this as a good opportunity to limit my consumption of online content at home — as well as the associated procrastination. I’m not going to renew my contract.

If I want to write or work online, I’ll go to the local library. That means that when I get home, I’ll be living in an Internet-free zone. Granted, I still have my smartphone, but I’ve personally never found phones as addictive as laptops. I’ll spend my spare time reading, pursuing hobbies and meeting with friends.

This might seem like a fairly radical step, especially for someone who has largely worked online since 2013. But I’m firmly convinced I’ll be more productive and less over-stimulated by living this way.