Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The problem with user-generated content

Anthony Lilley expresses discontent with "user-generated content" over at the Guardian (registration required, or available through Factiva). Some of his argument relies on an underthought analogy between spoken words and online activities like blogging which persist beyond the moment, but I liked his initial assault on the catchphrase:
[T]he very term user-generated content is loaded with implicit assumptions. When, for instance, did the word "user" last have a positive meaning? It's all warm spoons and Irvine Welsh characters nicking purses. Couple it with "generated", a dehumanising word which undermines creativity, and you've put these pesky users firmly in their place. Power is "generated", art isn't. Top it off with a dash of "content", a sloppy generalisation at the best of times, and you've put this stuff firmly in a box marked alien and poor-quality.
"Consumer" and "user" are very popular words in copyright scholarship these days, and they're much less inviting words than "reader" or "artist." Why that should be, in a society that values capitalist consumption so highly in other ways, is an interesting question in itself. The market may have taken the place of God and kings, but somehow true sovereignty hasn't descended on us through our credit cards.

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