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Archive for April, 2018

Guidance

This blog almost certainly contains something that someone somewhere will manage to find offensive or at least annoying. To those people I respectfully suggest you lie down in a quiet, dark place for a short while, and think about how you might try to chill out a bit.

Meh indifference

Way back in the 2000s (remember them, eh, kids?!), the smart response to so much content online was meh, like, whatever. It seemed to be a badge of honour, an attitude, that you were, like, so not interested in all this trivial nonsense. You could rise above it. Who needed LOLcatz anyway?

Now Bento, ‘the keyboard cat’ dies and it makes the national news.

The amount of memes and content and reposting and churnalism has overwhelmed us. We’re increasingly incapable of setting our Slow Thinking System 2 to work, rationally processing and analysing the world. Ever-shorter attention spans are driving TL:DR, while ‘intelligent’ algorithms drive us deeper into social and political echo chambers where we only see stuff we already like.

Confirmation bias becomes embedded, debate mutates into violent shouting matches, and the idea of constructive compromise is an outdated weakness.

Anger Inside Out

From meh to outrage

The apathetic shoulder-shrug has long gone, now everything is outrage and offence, hyperbole and superlatives. With no sense of irony, it’s almost impossible to overstate the speed at which the internet can go apesh*t over anything and everything.

In case you’ve not experienced this, allow me to outline the (all too predictable) process.

  • Newspapers splash headlines about ‘fury’ or ‘storm’ as though the nation is up in arms, when in fact they’re simply reposting a few angry tweets or comments from random individuals
  • These headlines spark reactions in others (even if the headline bears little resemblance to the substance in the article). Remember, people aren’t reading the article, just assuming the headline is true
  • Outrage spreads like a wildfire, no one checks the actual facts and ‘an internet storm’ is born. 140 (or even 280) characters is never enough to convey the real nuances or shades of grey
  • The speed with which it spreads seems to validate the outrage through a herd mentality: if so many people are in on this, it must be something…
  • Scepticism or restraint is seized upon as condoning the outrageous behaviour. As President George W Bush made clear more than a decade ago, there is no permissible middle ground

Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists

  • And before anyone can draw breath, today’s trending topic of outrage is tomorrow’s ‘seen it, don’t care’. The relentlessness of 24/7 online news, and its ethos that no story is too small or extreme to merit a manipulative headline from which they can sell ad space, means that something else will come along, probably in time for the evening rush hour, or tomorrow’s breakfast news, or lunchtime.

Perhaps the first time I remember this was in 2001, before Social Media even existed, when the hilarious Chris Morris satire “Brass Eye” lampooned sensationalist news stories, often at the expense of MPs and celebrities. Its ‘paedogeddon’ episode about internet paedophiles created a storm among many of the Great and the Good, claiming it to be offensive and calling for it to be banned without having even seen it.

More recently there was Steve Martin’s tweet about Carrie Fisher in the aftermath of her death in December 2016. His attempt to pay tribute to his friend was swamped by moral fury and he removed it within 72 hours.

steve martin carrie fisher tweet december 2016

In the US, Starbucks’ has produced seasonal red cups to replace its usual white & green to celebrate the festive season. They’ve done this for years, such that their release has become a signpost for the season of good will. Until 2015, when the plain red ‘design’ was decried as an ‘attack’ on Christmas, part of the systemic societal ‘persecution’ of Christians and Christianity in the US.

Starbucks Seasonal Red Cups Christmas Festive

I can see a cheapskate cost-reduction that’s pretty offensive, but an attack on Christianity?!

The entertaining and insightful writer Jon Ronson has written extensively about our current culture of offence and shaming. This review of his book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” is terrific, and gets to the heart of things when it discusses

…a scuttling crowd of people who want nothing more in life than to be offended. Offence, for this lot, is not a straightforward emotional response, instinctive and heartfelt. It’s a choice, something they actively seek.

When did we move from offence being a spontaneous and unconscious response to a strategy for life?

 

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