The Like Trap
Way back in the day, I used to have a pretty well-known blog. It helped to have had some press, but most of my traffic came from blogrolls and blog content.
I chased those highs. When I took on faith healers and homeopaths, the shit storm was predictable and scathing, but man did I get some numbers. When I wrote about the sex industry, again predictable, the same happened. So I wrote more, became more controversial and less agreeable in the process. Where before I tended to seek out commonalities and tried to explain differences, I realized two things: there will always be a shit storm because people rarely care about content and more often about their feelings being coddled, and that any storm, no matter what type and where it came from, was good news for my reader count.
I started a YouTube channel. It lingered, attracted a few dozen viewers and a bunch of comments, no more than maybe ten, in its first year. Then I said something that triggered someone with a five digit subscriber count, they reacted, and my subscriber numbers, likes and dislikes, and finally placements on the “recommended” tab on the site, soared.
And, again, I chased the high. Red numbers on Social Blade meant agony, greens ones meant to race back and produce more. More. More. More.
Where, in the beginning, I cared about dislikes, I stopped being affected by them. In the end, they meant interaction. Interaction meant positive attention by YouTube itself, and with that a chance at the Recommendations. I rarely strayed from my competencies, medicine, but I ventured into the swamp that is “alternative” therapies, homeopathy, naturopathy, and other quack and sham “science.”
Milking the channel as long as I could, I sometimes stepped into controversies I didn't intend. Such as the time I flogged the dead horse that is New Aryan Medicine, only to “trigger” someone who both subscribed to Reiki and Ayurveda but knew they had no arguments, so the shitstorm happened about being a cis white man speaking about “Asian Medicine” ... amazing view and subscribe counts followed.
I met an Instagram Model at one of those shindigs. We spent a week together at her apartment, talking about Internet Fame and “the Game” as she called it. Her days consisted of chasing the Like. She rented two rooms in an old house, smoked two packs a day, and wore baggy clothes... except on Instagram, where she lived in a van, cooked her own, healthy, meals, and wore the kind of clothes that left little to imagination. In the mornings she'd field sponsorships and influencer offers, her afternoons were a frantic blur of editing photos, cooking and photographing food (made inedible with glue, wire, hair spray and other tricks to spice up its looks), responding to Patreon patrons, posting a Members Only video of her dangling her feet into the sunset in her van, and stalking other Instagram Influencers for competition and new ideas.
Two years ago, I snapped out of it. Deleted the channel (huge withdrawal symptoms, probably not as bad as heroin or coke, but it did me in for a few weeks), went dark on social networks. My personal, non-nom de guerre accounts remained, but I was careful not to fall into the Like Trap again.
YouTube started being fun again. A few weeks ago, I started a channel, this time under my own name. 22 subscribers, and every single one of them was more fun to welcome and discover as those 10k subscriber rushes in some weeks.
My podcast lingers, but it's been fun thinking about possibly restarting it. And I am back to blogging, right here. I'll be careful not to fall into the Trap again, and Instagram's plans to hide Likes, as well as YouTube's careful forays into the same, might even make this whole thing a fun little exercise once more.
I've always been the type who doesn't do things to write/film/photograph about them, but just does things, makes media about that stuff, and sees what happens. If no one reads, watches, or listens to me, that's OK. And, hopefully, it'll stay that way.