Many people spend their time online trying to get as much attention as possible; I refer to them as “posters.” Becoming a poster and making a living doing it (like an influencer or content creator) has become the new American dream. However, this doesn’t mean it’s good or that you have to follow this approach; there are alternatives you can learn.
People care so much about being a poster because it gets attention and that is what social media incentivizes. When you spend a lot of time on social media, you notice the posters. You notice them posting Twitter threads like “21 books that will change your life,” obnoxious prank videos on TikTok, or photos of their cosmetically-optimized and Facetuned bodies on Instagram.
The attention people get from this makes you think you must do the same. When you consume “poster” content, you care more about your engagement, views, and followers. You become captured by your audience, focus on areas you know will get engagement, and make simpler creations that appeal to the most people.
There is an alternative: creating and being satisfied with your work yourself. It is letting the search for meaning and insight drive your work and creating something that doesn’t optimize for attention. You can create and not publish online. You can create in different and weird ways.
For example, I recently published my most well-researched and longest piece about a topic I have never written about before. It is about political and economic priorities in British Columbia, when I usually write about internet communities, products, creation, and crypto. I didn't do it to maximize attention; it wasn’t relevant to most of my “audience” or followers. I did it because I thought it was important and I would enjoy doing it.
You have more time to create differently and focus on your craft than you realize. You should optimize more for creating things that help you keep creating rather than getting you the most attention. There is value in focusing on the depth of your work, rather than just the breadth of its reach.
Pursuing meaning and insight does not prevent you from being ambitious, making money, creating a better world, or any number of goals. I learned this by watching creators I admire pursue their craft while accomplishing these goals. Instead of optimizing for attention, they do things like:
- Post well-researched, elaborate guides on niche subjects that require long attention spans to read.
- Write newsletters about walking around the “sleepy” Japanese countryside and deleting the subscriber list once done.
- Create videos about the philosophy of creation while maintaining a unique style and avoiding clickbait or “engagement tactics.”
The creators I admire could make their work more accessible or post more TikToks or Twitter threads or try to attract a “mainstream” audience, but they don’t. They focus on creating great things and still succeed.
This has led me to care less about my writing’s stats and more about how the work has improved me personally as well as the interactions and opportunities it has led to. The internet is full of examples of creators who are not optimizing for attention and still succeeding; they are just harder to find. Finding them will help you join them in this pursuit.
Finding Support for a Different Path
Finding support is key to breaking out of the attention-seeking trap of becoming a “poster.” When you find people pursuing meaning and insight in their work and surround yourself with them, you are more likely to pursue that path.
As a creator, seeing others' creator journeys and careers helps shape your own. Other people can have radically different ideas than you, which can shift your mindset. When you see people similar to you focusing on different areas of their work than you, it permits you to do the same. You see people in their day-to-day creator life, not just when they capture your attention by going viral.
Foster is this place for my writing.
In Foster, I found writers pursuing all sorts of goals, such as becoming an expert on a specific topic, educating others, helping their company succeed, making money online, or just figuring out their own lives. Some were seeking attention, but many more were seeking goals beyond that. It gave me examples of what an internet writer could look like beyond the “poster.”
One specific way Foster encourages pursuing insight and meaning is having different types of people edit your work. Some are familiar with your work and field, and others are not. Some have the goal of gaining lots of attention online; others want to focus on the craft of writing. By getting feedback from all of these people, your writing becomes more human and less optimized for one specific goal (unless you mention that is your focus). This leads to insights you would not have had on your own and a greater appreciation for the work in the end.
From the feedback I’ve received in Foster, I’ve learned many new things about the world and myself. I gained a better appreciation for what people know about the world I write about. I place greater importance on adding examples that can connect ideas to the real world. I focus more on the process of creating good writing than the attention that writing receives in the end. Every piece of feedback is someone investing in making my writing better. I feel a responsibility to make it as good as possible.
Success through Internal Satisfaction
Developing a greater appreciation for the work itself and seeking insight is healthy. The sad truth is that for every successful “poster” you see, there are many more that have failed. The failed posters have pursued attention as their only goal and gave up on creating when they failed. They did not have examples or support from people who were pursuing another path. They missed out on the satisfaction and insights that come from creating something great for themselves.
If you think creating to gain the most attention possible is best for you, reconsider. Find people who do not have that as their main goal. Foster is one of those places for writing, but there are others for every type of creation. Find areas where creators search for insight and build meaning for themselves. Talk with them, understand their worldview, and figure out if the path you’re pursuing is the right one for you.
Focusing on the internal satisfaction of creation rather than the external validation of being a poster is a fight. The posters are trying to convince you that external satisfaction is important. They are focused on getting your attention and will likely win some of the time, but you are ultimately in control. You can create processes that shift your mind away from becoming a poster and towards being a creator seeking meaning and insight. You can find people dedicated to a more sustainable path, and choose that path yourself.
In the end, it is up to you to choose what path you want to pursue with your creations—whether it is purely attention or something more. I chose to explore, pursue what interests me, and find value in the process. Even if that doesn’t get the most attention, I find it meaningful.