Are You Being Served?

You don’t like what you’re seeing, you just don’t know that you have better options.

Image: Rubbertoe (Robert Batina)

I want to share something with you from an article on Digiday today. Before I do I will warn you that the first sentence is about a woman who quit school to “pursue a career as a Snapchat influencer in Los Angeles.” You will find that sentence absurd and comical to the point of distraction, so I am telling you about it now to get that out of the way, because what I want to talk to you about is only tangentially related. Okay, ready? Let’s do this.

Sarah Peretz dropped out of college in Florida six months ago to pursue a career as a Snapchat influencer in Los Angeles. Her food-and-beauty-themed stories are done with art and humor, netting Peretz an average of five-digit views per Snap. She runs campaigns for brands like Taco Bell and beauty-and-wellness subscription service FabFitFun. She gives talks on Snapchat marketing at events like VidCon and the Video Summit in Leipzig, Germany.

But as her Snapchat fame grows, Peretz is becoming less confident in the platform: After Snapchat removed the autoplay feature, she noticed a big drop in her video view count. “It’s really difficult to explain to brands why I’ve lost 35 percent of my views on Snapchat,” said Peretz. “And it’s hard to find value in my decision when I can barely prove my influence after this plunge in views.”

Now, I am not a big user of Snapchat, but let me suggest that maybe the explanation for why she’s lost 35 percent of her views is 35% of them came from people who had no interest in watching them in the first place. This puts me in mind of something else recently in Digiday, from an article where publishers discuss Facebook. The head of audience development for Sky, talking about Facebook Live, says this: “There is so much live content, and I don’t believe people are consuming it because that’s what they want. It’s because that’s what’s being served.

I am just going to make that a pull quote here because I feel as if it needs the extra emphasis.

“There is so much live content, and I don’t believe people are consuming it because that’s what they want. It’s because that’s what’s being served.”

Listen, I am not a genius. My brow is not particularly elevated. My tastes are no more refined than those of the next idiot who spends all day in front of a screen. I just watched an hour-long documentary on the late ‘70s/early ’80s TV show “The Incredible Hulk” because I saw it in the sidebar of a different video concerning the late ‘70s/early ’80s TV show “The Incredible Hulk.” I wasn’t watching old episodes of “The Seven Lively Arts,” is what I’m saying. If there had been a related documentary about the miniseries “V” you can bet your ass I would have clicked through that too.

But as shameful as those choices are (and I am aware that you have already lost so much respect for me that you will never accept my wise counsel with the same degree of unquestioning reverence again) they were choices I made on my own. They were not fed to me. They did not start up automatically in the hopes that I would be too lazy or doltish to click away. My “attention” was not sold as a commodity to some bullshit brand by a platform partner who is complicit in the lie that I was in any way engaged with its content. Whoever got my pre-roll view got the view of someone who was (shamefully) interested in watching content about or related to the late ‘70s/early ’80s TV show “The Incredible Hulk.”

Everything is lies. Everybody knows this. The people who are telling these lies know it better than anyone else, because they are desperate to make whatever money they can off of their scam before the people splashing out the cash decide that their tolerance for this level of deceit can no longer be justified to their superiors.

Why do I keep repeating this? Because every day we are presented with stories about how the future is video [which no one wants], how seeing something for a second counts as interaction with it [when it takes at least two seconds to figure out that you need to turn it off], and how the bright new stars are platform influencers [who we pretend aren’t the freak show performers of our age]. We are all supposed to nod and go along with the lies, and mostly we do. Why? Because it’s easier. Because it’s depressing to realize how much of what we are told is lies. Because that’s what being served. I don’t want you to buy into the lie that this is how things are or how they should be.

Do you think the people who sell you these lies feel bad about it? I doubt it. I am sure they have already constructed their own mental narratives about progress and the future and giving an audience what it wants. In the end it doesn’t matter. When they succeed — and, given all the reasons above, they will succeed — they will maybe have the occasional pang of guilt for the way in which they helped make everything worse, but the large amount of money they made along the way will be an amazing salve to whatever prick of conscience they are briefly stung by. I need to stop talking about this, because it makes me angry, and you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.