Abusing Content Creators Results in Less Valuable Content for Us All

MS Delta Tour: McCarty Pottery Studio and Gardens
Photo by Memphis CVB [CC BY-ND 2.0]

I live a little over an hour away from a small town in Mississippi that would probably violate many of the stereotypes people who haven't visited Mississippi tend to have about the state. At least, that was my experience the first few times I visited. The historic downtown area, which has been fairly well preserved despite being repeatedly destroyed by the storms Jesus sends because "mysterious ways," gives off a strong artists' colony vibe. There are lots of small shops and galleries selling local art (e.g., paintings, pottery, photography). Most of it is reasonably priced and accessible in a way art in many other regions of the country isn't. The draw of the place is hard to describe, but it often makes me think of it as kind of an oasis that is a welcome break from everything around it.

In this post, I'd like to tell you about a (completely fictional) day trip I took there recently. What? None of what I am about to describe really happened. I'm telling a story to make a point about how we communicate with one another on the Internet and how we often treat people who create content for us (e.g., blog posts, podcasts, videos, books).

Destination Outrage

I timed my road trip so I would arrive roughly 30 minutes after most of the shops and galleries had opened. I like to get an early start, but I don't want to get stuck waiting around for places to open. It was great weather for a drive, and I made good time. It had been at least a year since I was there, but I remembered one particular gallery that had really cool local pottery that I wanted to visit. The last time I was there, I found a bowl I liked but talked myself out of it. Maybe I'd convince myself to part with the money to support a local artist this time.

It took me a while to find the gallery, but I did so. It turned out to have been a good day to go. One of the artists was there and seemed eager to talk to visitors about her work. As someone who knows next to nothing about art, I often find it interesting to learn about the process of creating it. After taking a brief look at her pottery, I got in her face and yelled at her for no reason at all.

Your pottery sucks! This looks like a child could have made it. I don't know anything about pottery, but this is awful. You should have used a different type of clay and a different color of glaze or whatever you call it. You are never going to sell any of this. Hell, I wouldn't use this as an ashtray!

Strangely, the artist seemed surprised by my diatribe. I guess she needs to grow thicker skin and learn how to handle criticism. If she doesn't want people like me to tell her what we think, she shouldn't put this stuff out there in public. What a pathetic snowflake! She managed to stammer, "I'm sorry to hear you don't like it, but this style has been fairly popular and has sold well."

At this point, I figured there was no point in trying to be nice or holding back. After all, I have the right to say anything I want to anyone at any time without consequence.

You fat bitch! Just look at this shit you call art! You wouldn't know art if you fucking sat on it. Whoever bought any of this is a complete moron or maybe they just bought it so they could make fun of it later. You really need to stop making this garbage and find something else to do.

Why Do We Behave Like This?

To be clear, none of this happened. I wouldn't behave like this. Most of you wouldn't either. Most of us aren't thoroughly miserable people, and wouldn't you kind of have to be to act like that? Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who do behave like this when it comes to those who create content that is disseminated online. You've seen the comments on YouTube. There's plenty of this nonsense out there. For some reason, the basic respect most of us are willing to show people offline does not seem to extend to many online interactions, especially when it comes to anybody who creates content.

I realize that there are people who would behave very much like what I described above offline too. If you don't believe that, talk to anyone who has worked in retail or customer service. These people are out there; however, this behavior seems to be far more common online. I can't help wondering if we will see more of it taking place offline in the future as norms change as a result of people getting more comfortable acting like this online. If so, we are making it more likely that content creators will burnout and stop creating. That can't be the sort of world we want, can it?

To the Content Creators

I suppose this could be the point in the post where I say "grow the fuck up" to those I've been describing. That seems too obvious. I'd rather address the content creators. To all those who create content and make it available to others online, thank you. You are enriching our experience, and I hope you will continue to do so. It does not matter whether I like your work; somebody will. There's an audience for everything. I know that the "criticism" (which often doesn't deserve to be labeled as anything other than "abuse") can get old, but I hope you will persevere somehow. You do not deserve the abuse you receive. We may be too stupid to realize it, but we need you. And yes, we need to treat you much better than we do so that you will continue to enrich our world.

How You Can Help

If this sort of thing has ever bugged you, let me offer one quick and easy suggestion of something you can do to help. When you run across someone creating content that you appreciate, whether it is online or not, let them know. You'd be surprised at how effective hearing something positive once in a while can be in offsetting the crap many endure on a daily basis.