In 2014, please use the Internet for good

Eric Garland Culture Trends, Uncategorized 1 Comment


I’d like to ask you a favor for 2014, dear reader. I have formulated a couple simple guidelines around the Internet that I think will improve the quality of media, enhance our social interactions, and possibly save civilization.


Part One: Stop clicking on things in order to be offended

Because I use a computer that is connected to the Internet, I was forced to learn of a cable program that follows the lives of some Louisiana small businessmen. Apparently, there was an interview in which a member of the show, an older Caucasian male who resides in the rural South, gave some opinions that are fairly common for lower to middle class Caucasian males in the rural South. Millions of people clicked on various links to confirm the shocking details, and millions of keyboards clicked and clucked away, arguing for and against.

If you are truly offended by these things, I’m going to ask that you refrain from clicking out of offense. Here’s why: There’s an enormous industry built on you being offended, and if you don’t like it, try not to play along. Check it – there are 310,000,000 Americans, and to make a boatload of money, you need but a small fraction of that population to pay attention. When some Offensive Media Event causes liberals and/or conservatives to race to their keyboards, everybody picks a side, and the Event in question becomes highlighted. Tribal identity is reinforced, and the attention makes that Thing popular, and therefore profitable. Usually, after you’re done being offended (particularly by a right-wing somethin’ or other) that Thing makes even more money.

Chik-Fil-A, whose executes espoused opposition to same-sex marriage to the howls of liberals everywhere? Sales went up.

Sarah Palin? She’s the first and only Alaska politician ever to make money on the speaker circuit after quitting half way through her mandate and leaving significant doubt as to her own literacy. Can you think of another?

Rush Limbaugh? Despite his Cape Girardeau, Missouri roots, his personal estate is modeled after Parisian architecture, specifically a grand salon in the style of Versailles and a master guest suite which is a replica of – I shit you not – the presidential suite at the Hôtel Georges V in the 8th arrondissement. (Très prolétarien comme style, non?)

And Duck Dynasty? They just shored up their business future with the 8% of Americans who do not find Mr. Robertson’s comments anathema. And Cracker Barrel knows it.

Get it? It’s a game. Want to win? Don’t click. That web traffic tells marketers that there’s gold in them thar hills of offendedness.

Forget what’s on TV, and on Facebook and on wherever. Just be there come election time, be at the school board meeting – because that’s where the rules get made.

If you’re clicking on the Internetwebs, please do it for knowledge and insight, not shock, titillation or indignity.

Part two: Stop clicking on things in order to be inspired

InspiringI would like to make yet another plea, however presumptuous, regarding the Internet in 2014: Please stop clicking on things that are “inspiring” or “awesome.”

You know what I mean: those “clickbait” headlines that magnetically draw your attention to something that is otherwise prosaic. “This Woman Went Grocery Shopping. What Went in Her Cart Will Amaze You!” or “This Man Decided To Break Up with His Pet Goat. But What Happened Next Will Repair Your Broken Faith in Humanity.”

No, it won’t.

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No, don’t.

Clickbait is the last-ditch attempt to get traffic to media sites so they can sell advertising. There’s nothing wrong with ad sales, but check it – these “media brands” are no longer selling the traffic from serious intellectual journalism. You see, back in the newspaper days, they never knew what people read the paper for. Maybe it was the investigative journalism, maybe it was the horoscope – but it was $0.35 a copy either way. Now, they know what gets clicks, and it’s the lowest common denominator of infotainment. A click is a click is a click, be it from Miley Cyrus licking a hammer or some permanent change in the Constitution by the Supreme Court. And these so-called “news outlets” know for certain that you will click on hammer licking, or Inspiring Goat Relationships, or whatever.

Can we have a reality check? You are attached to the Internet – The Great Library of Alexandria times ten million. Do you know what’s on this thing? You can learn French cooking techniques, the Welsh language or experimental mathematics this morning – for free. The greatest musicians in the world, past and present, are a click away. Some global expert is on Twitter right now, and he’s dying for someone to ask him an intelligent question for a change. There are new business partners to be found, old films to savor, and ancient history to explore.

2014: We are all sitting on a year full of historic opportunity. The knowledge is there. The potential is all around us. So let’s stop clicking on something “inspiring” and actually do something that inspires other people – and ourselves.