over the line


The Summer Of My Dis-Content

When the Four Horsemen ride down from beyond Canis Major to spark the long-promised Apocalypse, you can be certain that among those that get taken out first will be people who these days call everything "content."

When I looked up "con·tent" on Dictionary.com, it gave 11 different meanings, most them along the lines of "something that is contained" or "the chapters or other formal divisions of a book or document" or "volume, area, or extent," and even something unintelligible from math: "the greatest common divisor of all the coefficients of a given polynomial." Nowhere to be seen was "any sort of crap I can dream up to sell stuff but make it sound more important by calling it 'content'."

The other day I read a jargon-laden column about how to get users to "engage" (the Internet era word for "look at") with e mail promotions. Throughout, the author kept calling what was in the e mails "content." Nobody writes or makes pictures anymore. No -- they produce "content." As if the very label itself can elevate drivel to something that can be "monetized."



I swear, the other day, Emma -- the lazy Black Lab who fails utterly to keep the deer from eating my lilies -- mumbled that she was unhappy about the "content" of what was in her food bowl that day.

If you have been in the online industry long enough, you realize that jargon is the lingua franca, especially between sellers and buyers, borrowers and lenders, entrepreneurs and backers and especially between two strangers chatting at a conference or summit cocktail party. It reminds me of the days when ganja always had exotic names like Maui Wowi or Panama Red or Northern Lights instead of "just some shit we grew between the rows of corn in Jersey."

It is as if the more obfuscating the explanation, the more important your business must be. So "being clear" has become "transparent" and "making progress" has become "traction." Nobody "pulls stuff together" anymore, they "curate" it. And nobody in hell knows where or what the "next level" is. Or the exact meaning of "reach", "scale" or "engagement."

But "content" has spread like head lice in middle school and now is used by dead tree guys, film and TV guys, and just about everybody who wants you to be in awe of their creative genius. If it gets any worse, I can hear waiters asking if you'd like another glass of "content" or the auto mechanic expounding on the problems with the "content" of your engine.

Feel free to call this column "the usual swill" or "another warped perspective," but, please -- for the sake of the future of communications -- don't call it "content."

3 comments about "The Summer Of My Dis-Content".
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  1. len stein, July 19, 2010 at 9:24 a.m.

    A cupful of swill doesn't make the medicine (content) go down.

    George is right, I call it the summer of our miasma- too much, too fast, too much agreement, too much sameness, too little depth.

    Next stop, Overload, where we enter the Twilight Zone of communications.

  2. Bo Sacks from Precision Media Group, July 19, 2010 at 10:43 a.m.

    I have a few bottles of content formally known as beer that I would greatly like to share with you. I would gladly take the content out of my wallet and pay for the aforementioned liquid content as a small token of my appreciation for the text, now known as content, that you generously delivered to my content absorbing device that I read each day.

    you think about it, we could probably cut out half the words in the dictionary, by just expending the accepted use of the word content. This reduction of unnecessary words would eventually reduce the number of pages needed to print a dictionary and thereby save the publishing industry volumes of paper and perhaps save the industry itself.

    My compliments to you on a job well done.

  3. Courtney Smith from PureMatter Brand Marketing + Interactive, July 19, 2010 at 7:18 p.m.

    The hilariously ironic thing is this article stands adjacent to this, the number one most read article on MediaPost today:
    1. Yahoo Strikes Ad, Content Deal With Gannett

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