This is the time of the year when sites around the web compile “best of” lists, as a way of reflecting on the past year. It’s one of the few times we reflect on which of the many messages we’ve been drowning in will have lasting significance — what messages are more than just noise.
In 2010, Robin Sloan wrote an article that provides a useful vocabulary for thinking about creating and consuming content in a world with 24/7 news, endless facebook updates, and twitter.
Robin introduces the terms “stock” and “flow”:
There are two kinds of quantities in the world. Stock is a static value: money in the bank, or trees in the forest. Flow is a rate of change: fifteen dollars an hour, or three thousand toothpicks a day..
I actually think stock and flow is the master metaphor for media today. Here’s what I mean:
- Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.
- Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.
I feel like flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons—but we neglect stock at our own peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audience and, like, the health of a soul. Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: Oh man. I’ve got nothing here.
So what are the ways that I can increase my ratio of stock to flow?
Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook believes that every year people will share twice as much information as they did the previous year, so they’ve developed tools to help their users cope.
You can choose to subscribe only to what is most important and you can filter out messages from people you know less well. It would be nice if there were a service I could subscribe to which could dial back the level of flow and receive a greater quantity of stock on the web. Monthly magazines are supposed to serve this function. Or I can just go to the library and find some classic books.
So for 2013, my resolution is to increase the quality of what I read — more stock and less flow.