The Internet President
He’s not the problem. We’re the problem.
I don’t usually write about politics. It’s not my trade. But the Internet is my trade, and we have a bad situation:
The Internet made an American presidential candidate.
Donald Trump is a phenomenon born of the Internet. His special cocktail of puffed-up bigoted nightmares could only have found a rightful home amongst the darkest echo chambers of the web. Where conspiracy theories and hate-memes take hold, so holds Mr. Trump. It’s no coincidence he’s been likened to the living embodiment of a comments section.
You can trace Trump’s ascent directly back to the clickbait headlines, fake reality shows, 24/7 entertainment-news cycles, popup ads, and pockets of vicious harassment that have taken over TV and web properties in the past decade. It’s all part of the same toxic stew.
In this grotesque economy of endlessly streaming infotainment, the truth doesn’t matter. Facts don’t matter. Only eyeballs matter. Everyone’s a dealer and everyone’s a junkie, passing the needle today and salivating until tomorrow’s hit.
It’s hard to avoid it, even if you want to. Have you entered a bar, gas station, or restaurant in the U.S. lately? You’ll see 8 TVs spouting hot takes at you from every angle. Websites goad you into clicking spurious headlines and garbage advertisements. Social media feeds deliver all-you-can-eat meals of rants and bluster.
For every piece of signal there are 1,000 pieces of noise. And Trump is the king: the loudest noise of all.
We sat idly by and let this happen. We, the creators of media. We, the reporters of news. We, the tweeters of tweets and designers of platforms. We have allowed this lowest form of “content” to survive and thrive because we’ve given in. We let money, metrics, and ratings drive our decision-making. We publish anything if it means views and clickthroughs. We invent conflicts and false equivalences to gin up attention. We give the public the dirtiest scum and watch ’em slurp it up. The spectacle of Trump was good for business, so that was good enough for us.
We gave him a soapbox by building online spaces where hatred, bravado, bile, and hearsay are business as usual. And he used them exactly as designed, commanding our rubber-necked gaze every day.
We lowered our standards so far, everyone eventually got used to it. Like living next to a sewage treatment plant, you stop noticing the smell after a while.
The result? We accepted this trolling, twittering man-baby, then we pretended to be dumbfounded at his ineptitude.
None of this is even surprising or novel after so much hyperbolic coverage, but we can’t stop. We’re hooked on it.
Meanwhile, the planet keeps cooking at an alarming rate. Americans keep getting shot at an alarming rate. We could be having substantive conversations about those things, but we’re not. Instead we’re wasting our minuscule remaining attention span debating how much of a racist liar this guy is.
THIS IS NOT OK.
We need to reset. It’s time to recognize that we’ve gone too far.
You can start today.
Step away from the screens.
Stay away from the noise.
Hang out with some kids.
Think about them.
Think about what their lives might be like.
Think about the possible future.
Really imagine it.
Take a cold shower.
Find some peace.
Go vote. (Not for Trump.)
Then let’s get to work.