“Content” is a Horrible Word That Needs To Die in a Fire

Parental Advisory — "Content"I could say that I am appalled by the word “content” and find it to be a disgusting blight on Internet lingo. I’m not going to, because that would make it sound like it’s only my opinion as opposed to an undeniable fact.

To clarify, the word I am referring to is not “kun-TENT,” which is an adjective (or less often, a verb) related to a state of peaceful satisfaction. I am referring to “KHAN-tent,” the noun, which is quite appropriately pronounced similarly to an evil dude that makes William Shatner scream loudly. This word, a bastardization of “contents,” is a generic term for some generic thing that you shove into a generic container, generally speaking. But lately, as part of media conglomerates’ transformation into Digital Rights Manufacturing companies, this generic product term has come to refer to cultural works: music, movies, news, games, photos, and anything else containing some form of digestible information and/or artistry.

It groups together everything creative in this world as some mundane product like a dishwasher or a lampshade. Casablanca is not a lampshade.

Well, of course it’s not. Isn’t that obvious? Nobody who watches movies thinks of them as generic objects, nor do they think that of news articles or Facebook photos. So why is anyone referring to them as if they are?

Perhaps from a business standpoint, it makes a lot more sense to consider something you’re trying to sell as a product or commodity. That jives with economic theories of supply and demand: you have a supply that you sell to meet the demand, at a price determined by whether demand is higher or lower than supply.

Lampshade supply and demand graph

This makes sense.

But with culture and information, save for some technical difficulties throughout the 20th Century, that sort of thing is not what we’re dealing with:
Digital information "supply" and demand graph


For all of human existence, the demand for new thoughts to go through one’s brain has been pretty high. But as long as we’ve been able to communicate with each other, the supply has been in some kind of quantum superstate of infinite, undefined, and five tons of flax, all at the same time. Now that computers can express images and sound with 0s and 1s, and transmit them all over the Internet effortlessly, just about everything we can record is nothing more tangible than an idea. That’s not exactly analogous to a lampshade.

But again, this is obvious to anyone who isn’t in the business of “content creation”. That is the preeminent reason why this horrible word needs to stop being used: it doesn’t make sense in any context.

So what generic lump-together term should we use instead? How about we, uh, don’t? A video is a video, a song is a song, a film is a film, an article is an article, and a photo is a freaking photo, god dammit. And in the context of video games, it is not “downloadable content.” It is add-on levels or skins or models or whatever.

“Media” is a word guilty of most of the same things, but it’s not nearly as awful. “Media,” after all, refers to something that’s in a medium (i.e. film or sound or pixels or words or the ashes of your dead grandmother), as opposed to the “content” of some shipping crate in a warehouse. It’s still not great, but at least it’s palatable.

Keep in mind there are appropriate uses of the word “content,” such as “explicit content,” “violent content,” etc. This use is permissible; it’s more dignified than the word “stuff,” and it’s used to describe something that is harmful to our children.

    • JayStar

      How do you feel about the word “copy”?

      • http://plankhead.com Zacqary Adam Green

        It’s not being egregiously abused on a mass scale.

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