Stuck In a Stupid Loop

Hyperbolic language, click-bait and the degrading of the net

There is a simulation program from the 70’s called Conway’s Game of Life, where you position cells on a grid then watch them evolve following a simple set of rules. The patterns created become increasingly complex and ever changing, and can eventually resolve into hypnotic repeating forms and loops. The evolution of any system is shaped by its environment, it’s rules. This is why the current state of the internet is troubling.

Much of the benefits we receive from the internet are free. The services and information easily accessible for all (should their government see fit) with no preference given for delivery speed. This status quo is defended aggressively, a truly equal platform it should be, so the people have decided. The man behind the curtain who makes the whole thing go however, is of course: advertising.

We decided we want it free, and why not? It’s a great price. So then we have to be aware of the first rule we have created for the amorphous blob that is the young net (because given how long this thing is likely to be around, it’s still young). We put a price on traffic, on sheer volume of traffic. The net is all about quantity over quality of viewers. Yes there is targeted advertising, but advertisers can easily pin-point interests within the crowd now, so what they desire most is the crowd.

The nature of how these ads are delivered means it doesn’t matter if you are satisfied with the content of the page. As long as you hit it, it’s all the same to them. If there was a shop with no refunds, where you had to buy something the moment you walked in, do you think they would invest more money in quality merchandise, or in seductive signage? This is the current state of the net. We’ve created an environment where the most valuable way to behave is luring people to click with hyperbolic claims of ‘This Is Everything’ and ‘You Won’t Believe What Happened Next’. In itself this is generating an annoying enough amount of white noise on the web. What is increasingly worrying is the extent to which more established and trusted sources of information are adopting this tactic. Online versions of many respected newspapers devolve into lurking on Facebook cynically regurgitating click-bait, promising to ‘Blow Your Mind’ and ‘Warm Your Heart’. If the default setting for everything is maximum, we lose the dynamics of language. The content also degrades to the lowest common denominator and begins to revolve more and more around topics such as Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, as though his ego is beginning to form it’s own gravity.

In all seriousness though, we should be concerned. Every time we click through on one of those stories, whether ironically or not, we are essentially saying “I want more of this”, and we shall get it at the expense of something else. It’s a dialogue. We are creating a rule in the game, content creators will dutifully churn out whatever is pulling the crowd and the internet’s main streets will become repulsive, noise-filled and tacky, like London’s Leicester Square on a Saturday night. The nature of writing is being shaped by the way the world responds to articles and headlines. We might often wonder at the universal naffness of celebrity gossip magazines and wonder who buys them. Well maybe it’s you. The young internet is malleable, and it’s in your hands. So please: think before you click.