Welcome anonymous reader. We are, as yet, unacquainted and likely to remain so, and yet I guarantee you’ll get to the end of this article (if you make it to the bitter end that is; maybe a cup of tea is looking like much the better option) feeling somewhat short-changed. ‘Wait a minute,’ that wishful thinking, inner voice will say, ‘wasn’t something mind-blowing supposed to happen, just at the very second that I and her 10 other loyal readers (this may be an overestimation) bothered to click on another one of these weird articles she likes to inflict upon the already full to capacity chatter of the internet ether. To be honest, from previous experience, I wasn’t expecting much. I mean I didn’t think that opening this link would trigger World War 3, or that I’d suddenly get x-ray vision – did I?’
The internet goes in for exaggeration, hyperbole and excess, resulting in misrepresentation, fantasy and hogwash. We didn’t used to think that watching somebody simply baking a cake would leave us open mouthed in awe, did we? (I’m deliberately ignoring the awe laden Bake Off here.) Or that one of the hitherto unknown properties of Selotape is it’s capacity to change your life, in the same way your life changed when that fanciable member of the opposite sex finally said yes. Or that three scantily clad young women miming in a car would generate millions in advertising revenue – maybe that one’s a given.
I’m talking clickbait – the online equivalent of the angler’s best friend. Tie a non-descript video, or decidedly non-pithy article to your website line, using the most colourful and outlandish title you can think of, cast it out into the depths of the internet ocean and sit back while you wait for the users to bite. There’s nothing new about headline grabbers of course, only in the past these freak show tactics were used in newspapers, leaflets and circulars, which were frequently chucked into the nearest bin. But the internet is permanent, in its flashy impermanence, and those clickbait headlines and clickable videos are always there, floating about on your facebook and generating alarming statistics on Buzzfeed; that most refined and muted of the current Mega Web Stars.
It used to be that dumbing down was a slow process. But now it’s as fast as those super fast information highways. Apparently, and I have this from a reliable source, no young person of roughly the ages 18-30 has the concentration levels to get past the first paragraph of anything remotely passing as literature (I’m sure you’ll beg to differ), unless there are accompanying videos; or you’re on your favourite online gaming message board. The internet giants know this and so most website content has a kind of children’s book mentality. Your average 21st century reader clearly can’t cope with the unadulterated written word. Years of trigger-happy-finger syndrome mean you can’t spend too long reading that long-winded article when there are a million others just a click away, and maybe ones where you can find out the unbelievably magical properties of chocolate, including mouth watering pictures too (ok, that’s probably a good one.)
Thing is I’m rapidly falling for it. As soon as something, anything is committed to film or typed upon that flickering monitor, then it takes on the importance and significance usually reserved for something involving David Attenborough. And so here I sit, watching disembodied hands offer up an awe inspiring baking experience. I don’t go in for much home grown baking, so why on earth am I spending 5 minutes watching somebody simply bake a cake – and a not particularly attractive cake at that, unless you enjoy consuming psychedelic food colouring on an industrial scale. I was promised AWE that’s why, and when I’m not prostate on the ground offering prayers up to the Baking God in the sky, I’m feeling pretty stupid that I just lined some unseen advertiser’s pocket.
The clickbait stuff works though and the reason it works is that the internet is a full blown addiction. We literally spend hours on the internet, often times hovering over the keyboard thinking right I’ve been there where can I go next. And all the time we’re reading – but not in a book way. A book is a commitment. You start on page 1 and usually wind up at the end with no distractions. Cyberspace reading is a wholly different thing. Those articles you sought out are awash in a sea of clickbait. What if you’re missing something? Maybe it would be really useful to know why you should always carry a jar of stilton in your bag, or how you can recognise your soulmate from the contents of their kitchen drawer, or the 50 reasons why you need a nose. And one of those things could possibly go viral – do you want to be the only sap out of the loop?
I’m frequently out of the loop, always discovering online gold way after the gold rush started. And I recently got introduced to the word ‘clickbait’ and wondered what on earth is a clickbait; well now I know.
So, apologies to those who already have a full and comprehensive understanding of clickbait and didn’t need me to point out its insidious charm as a time waster. But isn’t clickbait just another analogy for this thing we call life? Whatever we do doesn’t quite meet our expectation does it? That dream job, dream date, dream dress; that solar eclipse completely hidden behind a blanket of cloud? Maybe we should click less and accept that life is mostly a humdrum, decidedly non-awe inspiring experience. So I plan to boycott the dangling clickbaits in my pathetically small facebook feed because, most of the time, what happens next is about as riveting as any page you care to land on in something written by Jane Austen (and she was hanging around in the 18th century when the biggest source of entertainment on offer was a pack of cards.)
are you swimming in a pool of your own tears?