Sorry, Internet, but my mind isn’t, has never been, and will likely remain unblown. But every time you trick me into clicking on one of your linkbaity lists or videos I die a little inside. Because I want to care. I do care. A lot. But there’s only so much someone can actually care, let’s call it the Caring Tolerance™. I’m starting to worry that you’re abusing people’s attention and increasing our Caring Tolerance™ the way a college student treats their liver first semester.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rage-read “my last” Buzzfeed article swearing I’d never go back to the site for anything but good ol’ fashioned America’s Funniest Home Videos style laughs. But then I see an article with “faith in humanity” in the title and my mouse hand moves faster than my brain. Then I’m back to rage-reading.
How many times can I read THIS WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE and have it do absolutely nothing, before I start to think nothing will? Or, worse, how much empathy can I be coerced into experiencing by over-the-top, SPCA Sara McLachlan wannabe videos on Upworthy before I can’t experience genuine empathy for the people in my immediate life (who aren’t soon-to-be-executed dogs, but still need love)?
I like to think that the folks at Upworthy are well-intentioned — Upworthy being just one example of dozens of similar “spread the good” type sites that are cropping up. And I like even more to think they believe they are creating positive change, and hopefully they are. But what they are doing is taking huge causes that people have dedicated their lives to, serving them up with manipulative, irresistible headlines, and encouraging people to think that sharing that video on their Facebook page means they’re doing their part to further that cause.
Maybe that’s the best we can do. Maybe that’s what people need, and just seeing that video and spreading “awareness” is better than not seeing anything at all. I would argue otherwise. I think the disposable, high-volume manufacturing of social good that is happening with sites like this, where they are churning out dozens of “causes” a day, is leading people to become more disconnected from the messages than connected to them. That it’s numbing people to the gravity of the situations, and desensitizing them to struggle and need.
What happens when “mind blowing” becomes too subtle? Let’s think about that. A phrase that means your brain explodes is no longer able to capture the shocking nature of something because it’s become so overused. I suggest “brain-fisting” as an alternative. “Did you see that Upworthy video? It [literally] fisted my brain.”
Cracked published a piece called “4 Reasons ‘Viral’ Content Stopped Mattering in 2013.” Hypocrisy aside, there are a ton of great points made there I don’t want to remake here.
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Esquire published a piece called “The Year We Broke the Internet” that is even better. It hits on the dysfunctional trend that sites like BuzzWorthyNova have inspired that’s infecting what should be legitimate news sources. How clicks are more important than verified news, and everything is heading in a distinctly toilety direction.
The internet has shown us that when one thing is brought to our attention, and stays in our purview long enough for us to actually do something about it, we can make amazing things happen as a global community. We saw this with Haiti in 2010, Japan in 2011… we saw it a few months ago with the typhoon in the Philippines.
The internet, and virality, can be used to do real good. That’s just not what viral sites are doing.
I’m concerned that our Caring Tolerance™ has been increased to an unhealthy level in 2013, where it now takes two gallons of 190-proof tear-jerking video to get us to care half as much as a shot of friend-is-having-a-rough-day used to. We’re in our second semester of college, double-fisting causes and shaking off hangovers with a cause during breakfast.
I used to say that I wanted people to care more. I misspoke, or I misunderstood what that might mean. I want people to care better.