Ambient Content

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If you’ve read the New Yorker article about Emily in Paris, you already know this term.

If you haven’t, that article talks about the show as being more or less background noise for an entertainment landscape where viewers don’t actually watch TV actively, they merely engage with it ambiently as they scroll through other content on their phones. As a result, Emily in Paris is typically low-stakes, slow pacing, and lots of nice visuals. It’s doctors-office TV, but for your own home.

I’m writing this note because I’ve been talking and thinking a lot about the forms of ambient content. And because I don’t get it. At all.

Ambient content makes sense for creators

Besides the laws of content placing an emphasis on creating lots of stuff, there’s the obvious benefit to creators of creating low-consumption-effort content: it’s also low-production-effort content. Reaction videos and lifestyle vlogs are the two that are really at the top of my mind, but mukbangs and topic-less podcasts could probably qualify, too. These types of videos take so little in the way of planning or editing, there’s no reason not to make them, if your audience is up for it.

Ambient content is comforting

One of the larger points stressed by the New Yorker article is the backdrop of ambient TV’s rise: pandemic and isolation. Emily in Paris is soothing, much like a noise machine with wave sounds playing. It’s soft, predictable, and does not demand much of you. A friend of mine said to me the other day

“I shouldn’t be thinking about a post I see on Instagram days later”

That comports with the way that I see lots of people use Instagram: scrolling and liking so quickly that you question whether they’ve actually registered it. It’s how I imagine bouncers look at IDs: mostly automatic, only engaging conscious cognition when something is awry.

So maybe the not-thinking is the point. It’s not my job to tell people whether they should or shouldn’t be using content to numb themselves.

Maybe my brain is the weird one

I’ll be the first to admit that I cannot multitask to save my life, I have an incredibly low threshold for boredom, and my conscious thought takes a bit longer to kick in than other people I know. Perhaps it’s pretentious to act as though I’m somehow above the human impulses that have built this trend in content.

The New Yorker article I refer to

All in all, ambient content just seems to me like a bad thing to focus on

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