The Filter Bubble And Garbage Headlines Are Turning You Into An Idiot
“She Stretches And Glides Her Body Over A Blank Canvas. When I Realized What She Was Creating, I Was Blown Away.” Sounds reasonably interesting, right? Well, I give you permission to temporarily serve Moloch, the hell-spawned god of clickbait, by clicking the source link. But I’ll tell you what “she” was creating: some charcoal art made by rubbing “her” body on canvas. Does she “create” a historically accurate portrait? A landscape? A tribute, winking or otherwise, to existing art? No, it’s just some circles on the canvas, about what you think you’d get if you made snow angels with charcoal.
Are you “blown away” by that? If you are, then I suggest you avoid any chance to see a Boeing 747, any piece of modern furniture, or one of those crazy pencils where they somehow get the lead inside the wood and then have an eraser included as well, because that shit will level you. If you’re blown away by someone making snow angels with charcoal, trust me: the process by which aluminum is extracted from bauxite will make you involuntarily empty your colon into your undies.
Nominally speaking, I stole the above image, but it’s okay; it’s been stolen and incorporated into any number of Buzzfeed/Upworthy-style “articles”. I picked this one because the article title was changed after it was initially edited. The article was first called
She Sits On The Ground And Begins To Move; When She’s Done She Finds Herself Seated Upon A Hypnotizing Masterpiece
That headline had to be changed. It wasn’t Buzz-y enough. It didn’t grab the clicks. It also contains a falsehood — the woman isn’t seated on the ground — but that wasn’t the reason they changed it, trust me. It had to be amped up. Because any of the actual headlines which would truthfully apply to the photos, some of which I’ve suggested below:
Local Woman Makes Charcoal Art By Lying On Canvas
Snow Angels With Charcoal Entertain Local Artist’s Friends, Family
Area Middle-Aged Man Disappointed To Find Out That Gritty-Looking 6/10 “Artist” Isn’t Getting Naked As Part Of “Performance Art”
Local Museum Will Let Anybody Do Anything
aren’t “strong” enough to draw clicks. More specifically, they aren’t strong enough to draw clicks out of Facebook. Ryan Holiday hints around this idea in his recent piece on Upworthy et al, but we are rapidly becoming the proverbial “two Americas” once again, and this time it’s fairly important.
The first America pays for news, opinion, and information, which it consumes in airports, during quiet breakfasts in upscale homes, and on the subway on the way back out to the bedroom communities. The average upper-middle-class life is deliberately structured with some dead time during which traditional news can be consumed; think of all those airmiles over flyover country or all the field hockey games in which one is only expected to occasionally raise a generic cheer for the team on which one’s child is playing. The prototype for this individual is the tanned, patrician-looking fifty-year-old idly thumbing through The Economist as he waits for his connection at O’Hare, but it could also be the burly sales manager grinding through the Wall Street Journal in the crappy biz-class section of a RegionalJet.
Members of the first America think nothing of spending five or ten dollars for access to current news, interpreted by reliable and educated sources. They don’t absorb the whole thing with the diamond-cut intellectual clarity of an Atticus Finch; this is 2014, after all. But they are receiving information and analysis that, though it may be far from perfect, is of a minimum known quality. The Economist may occasionally miss its guess on a matter of foreign policy or asset value, but if all you did was read the magazine cover to cover every week, you’d know more than 95% of humanity does about what’s going on in the world. Read the Journal or the NYT cover to cover and you’d know more than about 90% of humanity does about what’s going on in the world, plus you’d see some great ads for luxury products.
Whether they know it or not, the people who make up the first America are fulfilling one of the minimum requirements for participation in a democracy. They are informed, even if they are not completely informed, even if they don’t comprehend everything they read. They have a vague awareness of American foreign policy, the wars this country is involved in or not involved in, the approximate state of the financial markets, major foreign news like a regime change or potential areas of strife (such as the islands which are currently claimed by both Japan and China). They are willing to pay money to reach this base level of awareness.
The rest of America — the second America — has long since abandoned any sort of traditional paid-distribution news source. Instead, it gets “news” through social media, which is to say through Twitter and Facebook. It seems bizarre, pathetic, unbelievable even that most people get their news by clicking on shared Facebook links, but if you read the statistics, that’s how it’s happening.
Insofar as most people prefer to be Facebook friends with people of similar political orientation, there’s a nasty bit of filtering that takes place before most people even see their clickbait “news”. In order to make it onto someone’s FB page, it has to punch so many of the “right” buttons and make the original reader feel so good, so validated, that they decide to “share” it. Insofar as genuine, authentic, properly constructed news never meets that criteria, it’s safe to say that appearing on a Facebook page is a statistical guarantee that whatever you’re about to read is complete and utter junk. (Says the guy who just racked up 1,500+ FB shares for no apparent reason, over the course of a single weekend, on an old article about Porsche tuners.) If it’s in your “News Feed”, it’s not news. Period.
“Oh,” but you hasten to state, “I don’t just get news off Facebook. I go to DailyKos or HuffingtonPost or Upworthy or Gawker or Freep or Blaze.” Well, that isn’t really news, is it? It’s what Ryan Holiday calls “hormone-injected garbage”. If you’re reading it, it’s for you — and if you read any of it with a critical mind, you’ll find that it’s designed for idiots.
Which means that you’re an idiot. If you clicked on a link like any of the four in the image that opens this article, you’re an idiot, responding to idiot-bait, like the guy Kurt Russell “fishes” onto his lot at the beginning of “Used Cars”. You may not be an idiot at home, you may not be an idiot in your professional life or your parenting life or your WoW guild, but when you click on idiot-bait, you become, at least temporarily, an idiot. Think of it this way. If you’re a man and you click on a picture link of one guy jamming his salami up another guy’s pie-hole, you’re gay, at least for the duration of your decision to click that link. So if you actually click on “In Ninety Seconds, I Learned Something About Sea Coral That Could Change The World,” you, my friend, are an idiot, however temporarily.
Sorry about that.
Luckily, it’s fixable. Just find a reliable, vaguely impartial source of news. Unfortunately, even the best news nowadays comes with a sort of in-built bias direction that can be vaguely described as “pro-corporate-interest social liberalism”. Can’t be helped. You have to learn to read through it. You’ll also probably have to pay for it. Get over that, as well. It’s worth five or ten dollars a week to not be a complete idiot when it comes to the rest of the world. Wean yourself from the online garbage. At the very least, take the Journal, but if you’re feeling ambitious, get an overseas paper or The Economist or something like that.
Get out of the bubble, out of the idiot boxes. Leave the second America. Nothing’s happening there. Become informed, derive your own opinions, find your own truth. You won’t be worse off for it. At the very least, you’ll represent one fewer source of income for the Upworthys of the world. That’s worth doing all by itself — and to quote that less-than-august site, it’s something that should happen more often.
Categorised as: What I think