Stuffed full of the feed

Is 2023 the year the “feed” finally wins the war against self-selected content? The year when the AI just overwhelms us with so much content we have no choice but to hand over curation duties completely?

When I say “the feed” I’m talking about the stream of never-ending content you get on media apps. Feed is one description, but the words we use all sound gross: The infinite scroll (dystopian). The stream (thick and healthy). The feed (pigs at a trough). Gross stuff.

But what can we say? We’re the “users”- clearly on the way to becoming the addicts of social media. And it’s not just social media. It’s all algorithmic content. It’s the YouTube sidebar, the Netflix queue, the Slack channels, everything. It’s also what Michael Mignano called “recommendation media.”

I give my kids a fairly limited amount of TV, usually just the weekends or special nights. When they sit down to try to pick a show or movie on their own, it’s rough. They have different tastes and different age levels, but it’s mostly rough because they have so many options. They have to decide on Disney+ versus Netflix. Movie vs show. This show or that other one. Something familiar or something new.

Then they get auto-playing previews to distract them the whole time. They’re watching preview after preview, afraid to commit. I’m sure we’ve all had that thing where we watch ten previews on Netflix and then just… turn it off? Except no child would ever turn a TV off on their own. So they just… feed.

Of course we’re all nostalgic for our childhood. My sister and I would basically have two options to fight over: she wanted Disney Channel and I wanted Cartoon Network. Later it was she wanted MTV and I wanted VH1 or Comedy Central. That was it. Whatever channel had the better show basically won. There was no infinite feed.

In some ways, I can see the appeal of TikTok (though I’ve never used it so I could be misunderstanding it). No choice. Let the algorithm decide. You get what you get. And it’ll only be 30 seconds so if you don’t like it, don’t worry, just swipe it away. Is that better or at least closer to the thing I’m nostalgic for (a.k.a whatever the technology was when I was a kid)? Who knows.

We still have RSS feeds – the blogs I read in Feedly, the podcasts I follow in Overcast. Good feeds can still exist, but they take much more effort. I can fire off a quick tweet about this in seconds- digging into a blog post takes more time. But I don’t have more time, I’m too busy drowning in feeds.

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