In “When Writing Becomes Content” Lisa Dush explores the concept of content has affected writing and how those in the profession of writing as well as those teaching writing studies courses can better adapt to the changing landscape of writing. She provides an in-depth definition of content, explaining that it is conditional, computable, networked, and commodified. Furthermore, she discusses the need for an improvement in the vocabulary used to discuss writing as content as the current vocabulary fails at being consistent and clear. She lays out some ways that writers can better adapt to the technological changes that affect writing and outlines the necessity of that adaptation in order to maintain relevancy as well as to hopefully benefit from those technological changes. She concludes with her own skepticism and concern for what this evolution in writing means as well as what it could signal about the future of writing as a profession.
In the beginning of her article, Dush provides her definition of content, outlining its four properties as conditional, computable, networked, and commodified. Her definition is excellent and provides a fantastic context for what content is. In providing her clear outline of what content is, as well as explaining its connection to writing, she provides a framework in which a common conversation about the importance of content can be had.
Additionally, the formatting of her article make it engaging. Her use of bolded block quotes to emphasize information both assist in understanding her argument as well as provide an accessible example of the commodification characteristic in her own content. Through these quotes she demonstrates her own writing as content as she provides the “marketable chunks” which work to commidify her content (Dush 178).
Another element of her article I found well constructed was her discussion of the distinction between the “writing metaphor” and the “content metaphor.” While I believe she could have worked more to simplify this overly technical section, her underlying argument is strong. She eloquently describes how our previous conceptions of writing fail to account for the modern technological tools which “circumscribe rhetorical possibilities.” (Dush 181). She makes it clear that we must work to use these tools in order to better augment our writing.
I believe that what Dush is saying is very relevant. The rise of social media, blogs, and especially the internet has forever changed writing and we as writers must necessarily adapt to that change. Her warning that “the real danger is in ignoring content” captures my feelings quite accurately, in that it is so imperative that we work to understand content in order to adapt to it so we can benefit from it. The internet is a behemoth, it is a rapidly changing landscape that is only becoming more ingrained in both our as well as our audience’s lives. It may on the surface appear to only threaten us, but it is also a gateway to a previously unfathomably large audience. Thus, if we learn the strategies and tools to grapple with that behemoth, we can reap its rewards while avoiding its fangs.
While I enjoyed Dush’s article and found a lot of what she was saying to both compelling and relevant, it became repetitive. After laying out her initial definition of content in the beginning, as she continues on she begins to hollowly repeat her earlier points. Additionally, her use of figures seem redundant, as they present the same arguments as her writing but actually easier to understand.
I also took issue as she avoided any discussion about creative writing. Throughout the article her focus seems to be only on writing which is easily seen as related to “the content professions [who] do the work of strategizing, obtaining, organizing, storing, delivering, and analyzing the performance of digital assets.” (Dush 184). But these are far from the only forms of writing that are affected by the rise of content. Creative writing needs to adapt itself to the changing landscape of content just the same as the forms of writing she focuses on, but she provides no such perspective that accounting for this form of writing. What is more is her lack of consideration for the position of traditional media in relation to content, a consideration that I believe ought to be made when discussing the ways that our field must adapt to the rise of content. Writers still get published through these traditional avenues in addition to the emergent avenues, how should this dissonance be approached? What ways will these traditional avenues evolve alongside writing? She does little to answer these questions, and I believe that these are questions must be considered as they relate to writing as content.
Another criticism I have is Dush’s response to concerns raised by Tim Kreider. On page 174 she quotes Kreider, who is concerned about what he sees as the descent of “what used to be called ‘art’ ─ writing, music, film, photography, illustration ─ to the status of filler.” But even as she returns to this in her conclusion, she fails to fully address the ramifications of this concern. She agrees that the devaluation of writing as a profession is “a consequence that is worth taking seriously.” (Dush 191). But all she proposes is the incorporation of humanistic ideals into the “core of content work.” (Dush 192). This is not a solution, and while I respect her devotion to such ideals, this does little to solve the devaluation.
Honestly, while I admire her drive towards humanistic efforts, especially in regards to incorporating those beliefs into content work, I find that solution to be somewhat hollow and overly optimistic. We ought to be looking for solutions to better compromise the profession of writing with the rising prominence of content, not merely accepting that we must abandon the traditional ways of writing. I realize this may seem to contradict my previous claims that we must adapt, but that is not true. For in order to adapt ourselves to the ways that content is changing our field, that is not the same as abandoning it, leaving it for the pursuit of purely content-orientated work. Instead, we must first understand how content affects writing, an understanding which I believe that Dush’s article is an excellent foundation but further research and information is necessary. Then, armed with this understanding of content, we must work to adapt writing without losing the original. If we can succeed in evolving writing without abandoning it, that is our best chance of avoiding a future where writing is merely filler between ads.
Dush, Lisa. “When Writing Becomes Content.” NCTE, 2015, www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CCC/0672-dec2015/CCC0672When.pdf.