The relationship between writer and reader has always been dialogical. Writers influenced readers and readers influenced writers. That is where the idea of writing for an audience comes from. As every writer knows, who you are writing for influences your work, it shapes your craft. But this is only one side of that influence. The other side is that the reader is influenced by the craft, they read something that defines their tastes and preferences and engages them. The writer and the reader are involved in one of the most beautiful things in mankind, which is creating art. The readers role might be passive but it is the completion of the craft, it brings all of life, redirects and shapes it. Passive does not mean weak or barely noticeable, it simply means it is not easily noticed.
This relationship is broken or weakened. It isn’t in the form it used to be and we are seeing the consequences every day. Writers have stopped writing for an audience and readers have become uninvolved. Readers (the audience) have become hoppers, jumping from one piece of content to the other without investing or engaging thoroughly with the content. Content creators (writers) have begun writing for reach instead of an audience because in truth there isn’t much of an audience anymore, just hoppers. Content creators cut the depth of their content and spread it thin. They make the content accessible, short, interactive and colorful and in this way content creators cast a wider net, to catch a lot more hoppers. They do this for traffic (which is simply another word for reach), whether on their blogs, websites, YouTube, followers on Twitter or Facebook. Readers (the audience) have developed an appetite for quick solutions, accessible content, nothing straining, and nothing too long or elaborate. Writing for reach is, in simple terms, writings for numbers instead of people.
So the reader (the audience) has become more uninvolved in the process, finds little reason to, and the writers (content creators) don’t write for an audience anymore, at least not an audience in a way we used to understand it. The dialogical relationship is weak, although the audience interacts it isnt in way that improves or refines anything, and the audience is much more uncommitted.
So what are the consequences of this? How does this affect the activity of writing or creating content? Quite severely. Not in ways that are too obvious but, you know them when you experience them.
It has set upon us a deluge of content that lacks depth. This means even content that is supposed be informative fails to do so effectively. When you don’t give a subject enough room to be discussed, analyzed and explored you live your readers with an array of questions pertaining the subject, possibly leaving them more confused than they were before. When the content creators simply think the content is too big they often shear off information that clarifies the subject, makes it more coherent and answers related questions. You have experienced this when you click on a link that is supposed to inform you on something and after reading you are left with more questions than you had before, sometimes confused and sometimes you reach the end of an article and you cant believe it has ended. The articles, slide shows or lists being so short you go over it to see if you have missed something and, to your surprised, you haven’t. We have all seen those posts/articles and read them, ones with headlines like: 10 Awesome Reasons Why The Matrix Is The Best or High Functioning Depression. Lets take The Matrix, you will find you click on a link and what you get is an array of points that aren’t even reasons which dont explore the sophistication of the plot, the themes or characterization. Just a list of GIFs and points that can be interchanged with any sci-fi movie with a few tweaks. You return not having learnt much.
Why does this happen? It is writing for massive appeal, if you want to please everyone or get a huge chunk of people (reach) to click on a link you make the whole thing very accessible and spread the content pretty thin. You want everyone to find something in it and that just ends up being entertaining and easy but a little helpful. Im not saying content shouldnt be accessible but it shouldnt do so at the expense depth (depth is detail and detail is what makes content).
Every commentator, content creator, writer will tell you there is a certain pleasure in exploring a subject of interest or passion thoroughly and with detail. Engaging this way with a subject is rewarding in itself. That can only be done when there is room to move around and create. That is the pleasure of it, the reason we are doing it at all. But this trend of writing for massive appeal not an audience is alienating creators from the pleasure of creating itself. This is because there is plethora of limits imposed on how much of a subject you can discuss, for how long and how. There is little room. Writing (creating content) with the intention of attracting more people, which is how you succeed today, is simply an art of attracting a readership (an audience) devoid of real insight or interest or passion. That is tragic, stifling and depressing. Sure you are making content but it isn’t as challenging, stimulating and rewarding as writing for well-defined audience as opposed to massive appeal. Limits, limits and limits everywhere. One of the reasons people burnout, have low morale or find their work boring is because it isn’t challenging or interesting enough. Writing (creating) hollow posts (content) to rake an audience might pay the bills but it isn’t fulfilling. It alienates the creator from the intrinsic joy of creating. Especially since writing (creating) for massive appeal is no longer experimental or adventurous, it is now down to a science: pictures, GIFs, videos, short paragraphs(better yet lines), asking for opinions, polls, cliffhanger-like headlines, conversational, controversy, claiming something bogus, overstating claims, being unbelievably optimistic etc. It isn’t flexible and pretty soon the excitement of it all dies off.
With all this said there are places where a reader looking for content can still go. There are interesting blogs out there, journals, books, forums, websites, magazines that prioritize quality over results or at least find a balance between both.
We are called to create, when we get that chance, a space to do it we should. It is what adds meaning and value to our existence (not just yours but mankind’s). It is essential. This post is both a warning and an advice. Don’t fall into the trap of just growing an audience, it can be a pretty hollow and a dissatisfactory road. Remember to really create something that means something to you. It might take you longer and it might feel a bit lonely but, my friend, you will be happier because of it. I dont have anything against fun, interactive, short and multimedia filled posts as long as they deliver, there isnt anything intrinsically bad about them.
Strive for the balance.