Obssessive Niche Disorder
Compartmentalising our interests to segment our audiences
I’ll be honest, you won’t like me by the end of this piece. I’m about to attempt to convince you that putting ‘The Writing Guy’ in your profile is not only silly, but also limiting your potential, and making you boring. It’s making you stuff yourself into the tiniest of pigeon holes of which nobody cares about. If that sounds like it’s going to annoy you, I suggest you keep reading.
But first. Some history.
A few years ago, probably even just a year and half ago, I would have written this piece in 280 characters instead of 1,000-plus words. I would have said something like this: “Being overly consistent will lead you to become stale, dull, and worst of all: irrelevant”. I wouldn’t have written that tweet though, because just a year and half ago I was Mr. Consistency. No, that isn’t a label I awarded myself, like the world’s shittiest superhero. Others called me it on Twitter. Of course they did.
There’s another reason I wouldn’t have written this tweet though. I didn’t believe it. I thought being consistent was the way out. So much so, that I tweeted about it incessantly. Some may even say I tweeted about it consistently. At least I believed my own bullshit.
No, really. I banged out 10 originaltweets every day for over a year and spent far too long every day replying and browsing Twitter. I wasconsistent. But the only thing I was known for was for being consistent. I wasn’t known as the best at anything else. I was known in a very small circle of other people who tweeted, as the most consistent person who tweeted. Let’s all raise our glasses to the Most Consistent Tweeter of the Month.
Of course, this is how it goes on social media and Twitter. Our relentless obsession with attempting to ‘niche down’ and ‘find our market’ leads us to become very specifically good at something that very specifically nobody could give a shit about. You might be the fastest person in the world at writing your own name, but it makes for an incredibly boring twitter account if that’s all you’re going to write about. But that’s what we’re all encouraged to do. Niche down to the point of irrelevance. Niche down to the point that we become a dullard. That’s probably somebody’s niche on Twitter already: how to become the most dull dullard of all the other dullards. In fact, I think there is somebody who does that already: I think he wrote a book called Atomic Habits. 3 million copies sold. Probably more now.
If you were to ask somebody who still hasn’t achieved wrinkles or real heartache in their life, a depressingly large portion of them would desire to be famous when they grow up. But it wouldn’t be famous in the same way that you or I might remember it. It wouldn’t be famous for doing something. It would be a general and non-specific idea to become known. It would be to become a YouTuber, or a Twitch Partner, or a famous ‘influencer’. Daniel Boorstin said it best in his excellent book, The Image: “We come closer and closer to degrading all fame into notoriety.”
Many of us are more concerned with being known rather than being known for something. If we become known for being that guy who wrote that tweet about the intricacies of the modern flush system, we can become ‘The Ballcock Guy’. Next week, we make a video roasting Jocko Wilink on why he never smiles. We become the ‘The Guy Who Roasted Jocko’. The week after that, we accidentally end up on a news broadcast falling over in the background. We instantly become immortalised in meme format as ‘The Falling Over Guy’. That’s it. We’ve become known. Achievement unlocked.
It’s a fine line we tread when we pursue the idea of becoming known online. It’s easy to decide to become known before we even decide what we might like to become known for. Twitter is an excellent reference for this: I’ve seen several people go from Twitter course-shillers, to Fitness course-shillers, right back around again to Marketing course-shillers. Each week they are weaponising their audiences towards another vacuous cause, hoping that nobody notices. Often, they don’t.
This idea of ‘becoming famous’ isn’t just a thing that The Young Onesare pursuing. People much older who should know better pursue the same desires, but hide behind the terms ‘niche’ and ‘content marketing’. Aside from a very small few, this is entirely an ego play, concerned with doing nothing more than becoming known for becoming known’s sake. Niche has become a simplistic marketing buzzword, a simplistic shortcut to achieve a simplistic desire of becoming known online.
And anyway, if we focus so much on becoming known, we’ll shill any old shit online to become known. We’ll make a podcastabout anything if it achieves our goal of becoming known. There’s a desperation about it, one not so different to reality TV show contestants. They aren’t really there to make friends. They aren’t really there to have a good time. They’re there to kickstart a career from being on telly. As Seen on TV Jim attends the grand opening of the new Aldi Supermarket in Basingstoke.
Anyway. I’m losing interest now. Let’s round this off.
What is the point of becoming known if it makes you miserable? What is the point of ‘niching down’ and talking about one thing, if you have other interests? What is the point—beyond the simplistic pursuit of money and/or fame—to do any of this? Why the hell have we become programmed to compartmentalise our interests to segment our audiences to make it easier for people to assimilate our personalities into their digital content consumption schedule?
I don’t know. Call me ‘The Guy Who Doesn’t Understand Guy’.
Maybe that’s a little strong. But they weren’t half bad and I didn’t copy anyone
No. Not those The Young Ones. They were good. And that was a good sitcom
Hey, before you start, I make a podcast because I enjoy the audio medium. And my podcast is about nothing at all.
An absolute banger this, Craig. It all needed to be addressed.
As to this: 'Why the hell have we become programmed to compartmentalise our interests to segment our audiences to make it easier for people to assimilate our personalities into their digital content consumption schedule?' my hunch is that because everything online is geared around an advertising business model (apart from Substack, God love them) things that make demographic data easier to compile will be rewarded. I.e. if your niche creates an audience of fellow 'writing about writing guys' then that is a very particular and easy demographic for grammar app, productivity software, course creators and stationary sellers to market to. It all becomes a self fulfilling loop. Which is very sad.
I enjoy hearing who you were before you became the "you" you are now. Your writing and ideas also give me such an intriguing peek into a world I know nothing about. When i was addicted to Twitter, it was what became Weird Twitter, thus I have no experience with the Twitter neighborhood you called home.