The social internet is a seemingly-endless playground of opportunity. It truly is the modern Tower of Babel where the world comes together with a shared language of sorts and cooperates for admirable acts of goodwill or terrible acts of evil.
The other day I was thinking about how we all use the social internet a bit differently. Not everyone is on here trying to do the same things. We all have different reasons for why we invest time on our preferred social media platforms or other websites. Whatever those surface-level reasons to engage on the internet, I can think of three basic “categories” of social media user. I’m sure there are more, but there are at least these three. Conveniently, they all start with the letter “C,” (and not even in a forced way!).
None of these types of social media users are inherently good or inherently bad, I don’t think. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, which we will explore. While we definitely vacillate between these roles at any given time, we likely view ourselves as primarily one of these three types of users. Though it should be noted that we may consider ourselves one kind of user on a particular social media platform and a different kind of user on another. What kind of social media user are you? Let’s investigate.
1) A Consumer
Consumers see the social internet as a provider of interesting, insightful, or inspiring content. Consumers could also be known as “lurkers,” or people who hang around their preferred social media platforms without much interest in actually posting anything themselves. You are a Consumer if you find yourself scrolling Facebook or TikTok or Twitter or whatever else and you either rarely want to create any content yourself or you maybe want to and you simply can’t think of anything worth creating. I usually don’t have the Instagram app on my phone, but when I do pop over to Instagram, I may try to post something, but I quickly realize my life is not interesting enough to capture in internet pictures. In my limited use of Instagram, I am a Consumer.
The pros of being a Consumer are that you probably don’t feel much pressure to perform and don’t care much about winning the approval of others via likes or shares or followers because you don’t really create much content. You just get to enjoy the creativity and shared life of other people.
The primary con of being a Consumer is that you may be prone to voraciously consuming content in unhealthy ways that lead to changes in how you think, feel, or otherwise live. Being a Consumer of social media content can also lead to playing a bit of the comparison game when, for instance, you see the creativity or lavish life of a connection and you wish you had their talent or lifestyle.
The funny thing about the cons of being a Consumer is that they aren’t unique to being a Consumer, because the next two kinds of users are also content consumers, even if it isn’t how they identify in this exercise.
2) A Curator
Curators do more than just lurk and consume content on the social internet, but they also aren’t full-blown Creators running blogs or filming YouTube videos multiple times a week either. Curators find themselves almost as liaisons that serve as middlemen between prolific content Creators and hungry content consumers.
Practically-speaking, to be a Curator is to follow the work of online content Creators, sift through lots of content in order to ignore the bad and save the good, and eventually collect, organize, and share the good content with people who trust the Curator and follow the Curator on some sort of internet service.
Rex Chapman is an example of a Curator, and he curates content for an audience of over one million people on Twitter. Rex singlehandedly makes content go viral because so many people trust him to be a Curator of online content for them.
In my opinion, Curators are the most important and in-demand kind of social media user in our current context. Why? Because everyone is, by default, a consumer, and an increasing number of people try to be Creators every day. But there is so much content on the internet today that the most clutch people out there are the ones that are able to listen to the incessant clang of constant content production, sift through the dirt, and find the gems. There is more content than any of us can consume being created every single second. Curators help us see the good stuff and not worry about the not-so-good stuff.
The pros of being a Curator are more others-focused than self-focused. Curators are good for the social internet because they help attention-worthy content float to the top and get more eyeballs, filtering out the significant volume of content noise that exists today. Curators don’t feel the pressure of being full-blown Creators, but get to highlight the good work of Creators.
The cons of being a Curator are worth noting. First, while a Curator may not feel the same amount of pressure as a Creator to be always creating lots of content, the Curator is a sort of Creator. Curators can’t curate every corner of the internet, so Curators have to maintain some sort of brand. For instance, an Instagram Curator that shares some of the best photography on the platform can’t be expected to also share some of the funniest tweets from Twitter. Or a Curator of the most interesting sports statistics from the weekend can’t be expected to share the most stunning looks from New York Fashion Week. This is a pressure Curators feel because they have an audience much like Creators do, even if they aren’t sharing content they made from scratch.
Another con of being a Curator is that it can be quite a lot of work to curate internet content. I consider myself a sort of hybrid Curator/Creator, and sometimes it’s a lot harder to curate interesting content about internet culture than it is to just write something new about internet culture that I have observed. Sifting through volumes of internet content takes some time, and it can be a bit of a weight.
3) A Creator
Creators see the social internet as a blank canvas waiting to be painted with personal expression and creativity. As of 2019, 500 hours of content were uploaded to YouTube every minute. That number is almost certainly higher today. The social internet runs on Creators, doesn’t it? For good or for ill, I suppose. If Creators didn’t create, Curators would have nothing to curate and Consumers would have nothing to consume.
This deluge of Creators on the internet, I think, is wonderful and exciting. I am, of course, a bit biased. I started writing on the internet when I was in the eighth grade, and the thrill of being able to write on a blank canvas for anyone on the world to read has never quite left me. It is exciting and scary all at the same time. While, of course, plenty of Creators create content that is either objectively terrible or disgusting or otherwise reprehensible, many Creators have used the social internet to share their gifts with the world. I love the Great Flattening given to us by the internet, that anyone can reach anyone with their creativity, however profound or vulgar.
There are, I suppose, many good aspects of being a Creator, but I think they are probably quite personal and dependent upon the Creator and his or her personality. The most universal pro of being a Creator is that you get to create and express yourself to the world no matter your professional connections or level of experience. How amazing is that?! The social internet has provided you a way to demonstrate your giftedness and bless other people with your work that would have been quite difficult to access even 50 years ago.
As one who tries to create on the internet to help others in some way, I can say that there is no greater feeling than to receive an email or other kind of communication about how something I wrote helped a reader. No number of pageviews or email signups or book sales can really match a grateful email, truly. I don’t even really pay attention to numbers anymore because they matter so little to me in comparison with qualitative feedback from readers.
The cons of being a Creator are, however, quite numerous. Of course the most prominent con of being an online Creator, at least in my mind, is the constant tug to want to make much of yourself through your creative endeavors at whatever cost. Self-worship is the chief temptation of public creativity, I think. The difficulty with this is two-fold: 1) outside of the Christian ethic, self-worship is celebrated, and 2) from a practical standpoint, some measure of self-promotion is often required to simply share the creative work we have done with others.
But this is why I say self-worship is the temptation, and not self-promotion, because I think it is possible in our current media age to promote oneself and one’s work without sliding into a sort of sinful self-worship because of one’s work. That is to say I think here is a difference between posting a blog post I have written to Facebook for my friends and family to read (self-promotion) and posting a square image of myself with a profound sentence I have written super-imposed over the top of my face (self-worship).
Other cons of being a Creator include, but are not limited to, experiencing the pressure of always needing to create new content for your followers, feeling the need to woo people at all times with every public action, and wrestling with the subsequent feelings of burnout or discouragement that can can arise when it never feels quite like you’re doing enough for the Consumers who look to you for insight or entertainment. This is why it is important for those of us who consider ourselves Creators to find our worth and identity outside of our work and the people who like our work. Creators, to put it plainly, ought to find their identity in the Creator who formed them, not in the people for whom they create.
As I have alluded in this piece, I find myself at the intersection of Creator and Curator. Really it’s pretty easy to see that just in this Terms of Service newsletter. On Tuesdays I create by writing posts like this one. On Thursdays I curate by collecting interesting social internet culture content that I read or watch and provide them to you for your betterment (or at least that’s the hope). Of course I am also a Consumer of internet content, but as described above, the category of Consumer is best reserved for social internet users who only consume and do not curate or create for the good of others.
Self-awareness is important. I have tried to grow in self-awareness a lot over the last three or four years. The more aware we are of our own proclivities, our own strengths, our own weaknesses, the more we can live with an intentionality that capitalizes on our strengths and mitigates our weaknesses.
The problem is, we often struggle to recognize the sinfulness and resultant brokenness of our own hearts. We need trusted friends and/or family members who can come alongside us and always be evaluating our relationship with the social internet. Whether we are Consumers, Curators, or Creators, our default mode is set exploit our relationship with the social internet for self-centered, idolatrous means. It is likely we are blind to this and need Christlike friends to guide us to the narrow path.