Lenses online

Focus. Pick an audience. Know your niche. All common advice for creators, but it is advice I am beginning to question. This advice likely originated in the third chapter of a half baked book on startup advice. It is advice repeated across blogs, LinkedIn and youtube about helping people "hustle". If you're cash strapped and building a business or launching a product, it is good advice. If you put yourself out there on the internet, it feeds algorithm-driven self-filtering. Advice that paints a distorted picture of who we are as people and ultimately does more harm than good.

You're not a business.

In the early days of starting a business, it's tempting to do everything for everyone. You want everyone to be your customer. The advice to focus on a single problem for a single cohort of people keep you sane. It ensures you don't burn through all your funding before getting something to market. I've seen plenty of startups fall over because they tried to do too much for too many people. One I started ended up this way. That doesn't mean it is good advice for individuals. The allure of getting rich as the next rising influencer swapped variety for formula. The weird and wonderful internet of the past has become a drip-feed of AI selected content. Content that would have passed for a black mirror episode a few years ago. I'm hopeful we can find a path back.

Today, everyone is on a path to going viral. To becoming the next influencer on Instagram, TikTok or whatever ends up coming next.  The first year on any new platform is a flood of people looking to stake their claim as top talent. Shortly after comes the meta-influencers. They talk 'community' and spout the same tired advice on how to grow your 'personal brand' and rise to the top. Their advice works. It works because platforms are AI-driven filters that someone has learned to trick. They know what gets picked up. More of that content is made, and the algorithms further reinforce the same content and views. When views mean ads and ads means money, there is no incentive to break the cycle. For creators, in most cases, going off piece means a risk of disappearing into obscurity. The algorithm is cold and unforgiving, and a fall is faster than a rise. What this means for many is that your content rarely diverges. As an individual, you pass through a lens, a filter that extracts the AI optimised output of who you are. You're not a business. You're a person, and we shouldn't be filtering out the parts of who we are to help platforms sell more ads.

The slow decay of the well-rounded person

It's easy to blame ads or AI, but in some ways the change was inevitable. Years ago, everyone had a blog. Forums were on small topics and distributed. Humans, however, are suckers for convenience. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter started to absorb the blogs and forums. Going to one place was easier. Discovery was easier. Everyone else was there. Like a room full of people, a site full of people becomes noisy. To stand out from the noise, people had to change their content. Bob becomes the guy who posts about his dog. Sally posts about her beekeeping. As we scroll through our feeds, we spot the pattern of Bob's familiar puppy post or Sally with her bees. We stop and read and keep scrolling. If Bob posts about surfing and Sally reviews a play, the pattern isn't there. On platforms full of content, a missing pattern means most of us will scroll past.

On platforms driven by engagement, scrolling past is a signal to stop making this content. Team design engagement metrics to be addictive. The AI chose the content, consumers filter for patterns and engage, engagement reinforces. Little by little, conscious or not, this means less variety in content. For some, it may even mean an end to content. Either way, the image of who we are online becoming less and less honest and more a small fraction of who we are. One bent to fit an opening. Despite this loop, there are the mavericks. Those that are happy to be their full and honest self.

Be your unapologetic, whole self.

My advice is to forget about becoming famous on the internet. Or, if you do plan to do that, make sure you know that is one lens of who you are. Today's platforms mean narrow focus is the path to views, but that doesn't define who you are. You can branch out. You can like bees, surfing, beekeeping and dogs. You can post about a topic for 8 months and then never mention it again. While we are hard-wired for patterns in one part of our mind, there is also a deep desire for human connection. To understand who people are, to empathise with them and to feel connected. We are fast realising that the lens we pass our identities through is a distorting one. That lives online are filtered, edited and crafted to feed the AI and the consumers that play along with it. Write for 10 people. Write for nobody. Make videos that get 100 views from people that love your content.,

Be yourself, your whole weird and wonderful unapologetic self.

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