Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: the year i got sick of the internet

I went to my high school reunion a few days ago -- an out of character bit of socialization that I enjoyed much more than I could have anticipated. While there, multiple people told me that they read everything I write. That's simultaneously super cool and incredibly intimidating. Thinking about that reality, I couldn't help but feel a little guilty that I didn't write much this year. Or, I did, but I didn't post much of it. I have so many text files on my desktop with unpublished missives and opinion pieces, it's a bit out of hand. But you know what they say opinions are like, right? Right.

All four of my high school friends. jk, jk. I had at least five.
At this moment, I have eight tabs open with articles reacting to Jay Wilds' interview with The Intercept, and there are literally thousands more comments on the subject in the Serial subreddit, not to mention countless OTHER articles I haven't even come across yet. Everybody has an opinion. Everyone's writing down that opinion. Everyone's sharing it. What exactly am I supposed to add to the conversation? And even if I do have something groundbreaking to say, are we not already a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of related reading? If we're adding to the noise, turn off this blog. 

More than ever, I just want to read books. I want to read something that isn't just someone's opinion about pop culture or politics. I want stories, and not the clickbait kind of story that's supposed to move me to tears with lazy tropes about poverty or religion or feminism or whatever. I've hidden from my newsfeed all articles from Upworthy, Godvine, Buzzfeed, and their ilk. Just seeing them was making me angry. Even worse, they were making me feel useless. Just another asshole on the internet. 

I love the internet, but I'm sick of it. Things I'm sick of include:
Seeing one person's article spawn dozens of reaction articles taking it apart. The Why-This-Author-Is-Wrong-About-This-Thing racket is a tiresome industry. And that's not to say there's no place for criticism. I love good criticism and believe it's necessary to hear multiple sides of a discourse. What's getting old is this genre of critique -- reading things for the sake of finding something wrong with them and going viral with a response. That's lazy. We're so lazy. We do so much critique of other critiques and so little actual, fruitful discussion. 

Articles that just tell you information from other articles. "Rolling Stone did an interview with So-and-So. Here's a huge chunk of text from that interview with no added commentary. Let us know what you think in the comments!" Really?

Clickbait. Maybe it's because I'm naturally stubborn, but I HATE being manipulated into reading something. Tell me what's on the other side of the link, and then I'll decide whether or not that's something I'm into reading. I don't want to guess what happens next. It's Facebook, not a game show. I don't want to play unless I'm going to win a car or a vacation to some island I've never heard of.

Matt Walsh. Not just the person, but the Matt Walsh archetype: Bloggers and pundits on the internet who speak with total certitude and authority, as if they are the last word and moral compass of America. These kinds of bloggers rely completely on getting people emotionally riled up, and whether or not their arguments have any basis in fact or show any evidence of honest examination of both sides of the issue, they are 100% SURE that they are right. They're protectors of ideology at all costs, and the aggressive, emotional diatribes they spew forth (seemingly directly from ass to keyboard without ever coming in contact with their brains) are then spread like wildfire amongst other likeminded individuals who are comforted by this affirmation of their identity.

• Similarly, wildly partisan websites. It's one thing for a news organization or blog site to have a particular political bent. It's an entirely different thing for a site to espouse partisan propaganda with no sources but other propaganda websites. They alter videos, they twist words, and they knowingly deceive people who don't follow the research trail to its inevitable dead end. These kinds of websites usually claim to be telling some truth you won't find in the lamestream media, which tricks people into a false belief that they're being critical thinkers. It's gross. 

Satire that is not clearly satire. At this point, the whole joke for these satire websites seems to be that they're tricking people. That's not good satire. I'll grant that many people still fall for The Onion, but I'm also inclined to believe that most of the time it's because people share and comment on articles after only reading the headline. Once you get into an Onion article, it's pretty clear it's not for real. This is not the case with sites like Daily Currant or Empire News that traffic in "satire" without punchlines. They make no greater statement about American society than that we're gullible, which is a pretty lousy use of a literary form that can be both humorous and a critical lens on culture.
I know, I know. All of this is what people apparently want to read. If an article just critiques an idea without framing it as a response to another journalist or some big celeb like Emma Watson or Taylor Swift, then who'll read it? Every time Buzzfeed posts a longform article, half the comments are complaining about the length. And I know that by even ranting about all this, I'm just another person on the internet critiquing other people on the internet for not writing the way I want them to write. It is what it is. I'm tiiiiiired is all. And I don't want to simply add more noise, so... I haven't. If you've wondered where the gal that wrote that viral post went, here I am, sitting in the corner of the classroom debating whether I should raise my hand.

For the record, things I'm not sick of on the internet include: t-rex arms, Jeff Goldblum, Chris Pratt, puns, and food porn. This list is not exhaustive.

And to round out all my stupid griping and prove myself wrong about how tiresome I find the internet, here are some articles I really enjoyed this year. There are many more, but I've now realized I don't keep them archived in an easily retrievable spot. New year's resolution, perhaps? That, and to write. Even if it's noisy.

The New Face of Richard Norris | Jeanne Marie Laskas | GQ
How to Solve an 88-Year-Old Literary Mystery | Susan Cheever | New York Times
Speaking While Female | Andrew Daar | Pop Tortes
The Bible Was 'Clear' | Rachel Held Evans
The 8 DUMBEST Criminals of All Time | Clickhole

Note: It has been pointed out to me that Gamergate and other such nonsense didn't even make it onto my list. I've apparently just blanked out all of the rampant misogyny on the internet of the past year, but I assume you all know how I feel about all that.