This is the first in a series of articles about what philosophy can teach us about content and content strategy.
Everyone knows about the concept of ‘the brain in a vat’, whether they realize it or not – either directly through reading and learning about philosophy, or indirectly through references in popular culture.
The essence of the problem is that the physical world as we know it may not really exist. Our brain is actually in a vat, plugged into a computer that has created a body and world for us, simulating senses and experiences.
The most popular reference to this problem was The Matrix, which no doubt you will have seen (if not then please go to a movie streaming service now and return after!).
The underlying consequence of ‘the brain in a vat’ problem is that we can’t really ever know anything. If the world and your own senses could turn out to be false, how can anything you believe be true?
Sometimes being sceptical in this way is useful as it means commonly-held false beliefs are questioned, resulting in progress and originality.
However, the other side of scepticism is inaction and paralysis – particularly when trying to create something of value to others.
How can I ever truly know what others will value?
Is it really worth putting all of this time and effort (and potentially money!) into creating content without knowing if anyone will value it?
Create for Yourself
One answer is to embrace the uncertainty and create content to satisfy yourself. Your actions should be driven by your values anyway and if no one shares those values then at least you haven’t compromised them.
Creating something for others before yourself is also a sure fire way to second guess yourself and end up with a camel (a horse designed by a committee).
Canvass for Thought-Provoking Comments
If you don’t quite have the courage in your convictions to ignore everyone completely, then canvassing the feedback of others before publishing can still be useful, even if you can’t ever tell whether they think it’s good or not.
They may say something thought-provoking even if you shouldn’t necessarily rely on the sentiment. For example, they may say that a topic you are talking about is similar to something else that you hadn’t thought of, which might be useful to include as a way to explain it.
Learn through Experience
Another response to the ‘brain in a vat’ problem is to test what you think is true enough times to gain some level of sureness that you are right.
As long as you have a reliable process for testing your belief, then you can rely on the results to a good extent. Just because the sun rose today, doesn’t mean it will tomorrow – but surely being 99% certain it will rise tomorrow is enough to get out of bed in the morning?
This means creating and publishing often enough to gather meaningful experience and using metrics/methods that you feel you can trust to gauge value. These methods could be a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data:
o Onsite surveys
o Time on page (you may need to configure your analytics to get this for bounces)
o On page events
o Goal completion
o Comments (most readers will be far enough removed to be honest!)
In the case of the latter it is wise to pay closer attention to the bad than the good, as it is more likely to be true and therefore help you improve.
Creating content as a brain in a vat means you have to:
o Try to have courage in your convictions
o Canvass for thoughts not opinions before publishing
o Publish often enough to build a reliable belief system
o Gauge value with methods you can trust