Gorilla Meritocracy

I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with this kind of person face-to-face but there’s a special kind of dickhead who will not let anything pass unless he can talk about it. I say he because all the ones I’ve met have been dudes, but that’s not necessarily the case, so let’s shift gears to ‘they.’ They are absolutely convinced that they need to comment on everything. Everything. It doesn’t matter how much or how little of an opinion they have, what matters is that it cannot pass at all until they have said something.

Even if they have nothing to say.

These people are exhausting and irritating.

Thing is, right now you can make a decent living always having something empty to say. Current models of viewer attention work on this silly feedback loop where if you see something someone had to say, the assumption is that that thing was worth seeing.  The model’s a little broader than that, of course; right now it pulls things based on common points. If you watch a bunch of Last Week Tonight videos with Jon Oliver, it will probably keep trying to feed you Last Week Tonight videos, even the ones you’ve already seen, even the rip-off copies of the exact same videos that have been uploaded by someone calling himself JohnOlliver010. It’s a model that tries, damnit, it tries, but what it’s only really good at is volume.

We wind up then in this attention economy where the scarcity economy has been since the 1910s, faced with what we unflatteringly call gorilla sales. Except you don’t have to sell things, you just have to produce things. You want to put your work out there – sorry, your content, which is to say, formless, unqualified, quantifiable greyness you pour into a box of a particular length, and shuttle out down the pipeline. It doesn’t need to be good, it doesn’t need to have meaningful or insightful things to say, it doesn’t need to have creative effort involved. You produce enough, constantly enough, and you will get a certain amount of traction. Get in early enough, when the attention was growing, and even a gorilla could succeed.

Yes, I’m talking about TotalBiscuit.

Normally I’m fine to leave the awful work of awful people to its own audience, because I don’t have that much energy in me to hate-watch bad things. But now, Mr Biscuit is being presented to me by a service I do use – Steam’s storefront, specifically, the ‘recommendations’ from its curation system. A curation system that, I want to remind you, rewards you nothing, but lets you connect it to existing media. Simply put, Steam lets you advertise yourself, in exchange for advertising for them. Most of us can’t make any good of that – I mean, some of us can make value out of attention, but most of us can’t, and the myth that we all can is one of the many, many things I’ve heard in the past year spoken by starry-eyed pro-internet-solves-everything folk. For most of us, curation is work that we are at best going to do to express something.

But.

If you already have a massive media presence, if you already have hundreds of thousands of people paying attention to you, curation is just another way to expand and gorilla onwards.

And that, children, is why I have had to see, repeatedly, ‘recommendations by curators,’ that offer me such advice as Try the game before you buy into it.

I don’t try and have conversations with gorillas. They often confuse being loud with being meaningful.

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