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Creative writing, Cultural Reflections

The Top Ten Things the Internet Does Wrong: Part Five

This is the fourth part of a five-part series. The first part can be found here, the second here, the third here, and the fourth here.

//By Andrew Lewis//

Photo Credit: business2community.org

Photo Credit: business2community.org

  1. Top Ten Lists

This got rather serious rather quickly.  But what good is a top ten list if it doesn’t escalate?

Nice segue, right?

Yeah, top ten lists seem like such an easy thing, yet so often the internets get them all wrong.  Most sites have even given up doing ten points.  Sometimes it’s just “the top six,” as if that’s all the author could think of, and they just stopped there.  That’s not good enough!  These are the internets!  We have standards to uphold.§§  If you’re going to manage only six things, at least say you’re using a base-6 number system, so you can reach double digits.  No wait, don’t do that!  If we use a base-6 system, I’d be 42 years old!

Also, those top 10 lists with 10 or less list items tend to do something that pisses me right off.  A normal, sober human being would put the list on a single page so that people can read uninterrupted and browse for individual articles that tickle their interests.  That’s what a good web manager would do.  That’s the kind of internets feng shui that brings harmony to the web.  But no, many sites don’t do that these days.  They put each individual article, each individual list item on a single page and make you click “next” to move down the list.  This is a double-whammy.  It wastes your time, and you know that each time you click, you’re giving the website more ad revenue.  They’re making money by mildly annoying you and wasting your time!

To be fair, the main culprits of this are the amalgamation sites—sites without an original pixel in their panels that just take things from other websites and hope their copy gets more hits on social media and StumbleUpon.  By the way, all those sites should be blown to oblivion.

Worse than the lists that give you too few things to read about are the ones who give you far too many to care about!  We used to only see these in cheap magazines you find in grocery store checkout lines:

“16 pages of the hottest pants for fall!”

“The 43 hot sex things he wants to do but totally isn’t telling you about!”

“196 new reasons to feel bad about your body!  Read on, fasto!  Next issue, our list of world’s most delicious chocolates!”

Now this sort of thing has moved on to the internet.  Even the Nostalgia Critic does a “top 11.”  The latest fad seems to be “## reasons you know you’re from The Place You’re From.”  You know how I know I’m from Houston?  I f@#!ing lived there!  I remember.  I have a cerebrum.  I also don’t need 50 reasons why I was a ‘90s kid.  I need one reason; I was born in 1987.  Do you remember the Suuuuper Nintendo?  YES, I REMEMBER THE DAMN SUPER NINTENDO!  It never gave me 27 reasons it’s better than Atari.  It didn’t need to.  I used my widdle head and went, “Oooh, this looks fun!”

If you’re like me, you have at least one friend on Facebook that loves these things.  Once a week, they’ll post one, and out of a false sense of friendy-friendy loyalty, you take a look at it.

The first item on the list is mildly interesting.  It’s also labeled with a number 1, which is stupid because why would you start with number 1?  You save the best for last, damnit.

The next one is just about as good as number one.  Maybe you chuckled.

So you keep reading.  Then you get to number 7, and you’re bored.  But your friend posted it—maybe they even tagged you in it.  You must get to the bottom of this dung heap.

Number 10.  You’ve made it to number 10.  This should be where it ends.  This is the logical ending point for a list of things.  Yet the list keeps going.  In the words of fictional Red Letter Media character Harry S. Plinkett, “You know there was this guy named William Shakesman who said, ‘Brevity is the soul of wit,’ which basically means ‘Don’t waste my time.’  I said stop wasting my time!  Stop it!”  You’re not even a quarter of the way through yet.

What the—the 11th one is basically the same as the 10th one!  There’s just a slight variation in one or two aspects.  Why would they do that?  Just make it part of number 10!  This prick is trying to artificially inflate the number of things in the list!  What?  That just wastes more of my time!  Stop it!  It’s only number 11, and there’s already a repeat.  This does not bode well.

So you keep reading, and you’ve read 17 items on the list.  THERE’S STILL 26 MORE TO GO!  Let’s not even get into how OCD-inducingly irritating it is that there’s an odd number of items on the list.  It’s just not symmetrical, you pricks!

So you get to number 23, and you realize you’ve wasted a lot of time on this already, and it’s still not interesting.  Why did your friend post this?  Did they lose their sense of humor?  Is there something at the very end that makes all of this worth it?  Yeah, the pictures are kinda nice and unique, but they could have just as easily said, “Hey look, I found a buncha neat pictures.”  But no, they had to build some sort of article around the pictures—which is clearly what they did—as if they’re all trying to be Bob Saget on America’s Funniest Home Videos.  The pictures are funny enough on their own; they don’t need your help!  What is this, internets, joke life support?  Joke welfare?

Then—oh then—you get to the end, and the 43rd item (which, I remind you, should be #1) is no more or less interesting than any of the other items in the list.  It wasn’t building up to anything!  The author just ran out of stuff.  What a waste of your time!  Your precious, precious time!  My preciousssssss!  So you throw your computer out the window and into the vat of lava and burning sharks you had prepared.  Now you have to get a new computer, and lava sharks certainly aren’t part of the manufacturer’s warranty!

Happens to me all the time.

Thanks, internets.

1 ¾.  Hashtags

#ohihatethese               #theyrealloverthefckingplace   #dontthingsjustreadsomuchbetterlikethis

#youknowkidsaregonnastartaskingwhytheresahashtagbuttononphones

#peopledontevenusethemright

#sotheyresupposedtomakeiteasiertofindmyriadpostsonthesametopicright  #whousesthemforthat

#noone        #causeeveryonestoobusymakingsnarkyremarksastheirhashtag

#asifitmakesthemmoreclever

#arethingsreallyfunnierinbriefandwithoutspaces          #whycantyoujustsaywhatyouthink

#insteadofmakingastupidhashtagaboutit    #thesethingsneedtodie

#readingthisisreallyirritatinghuh

#amazinghownocapitalsspacesorpunctuationkillsenglish             #ireallyhatehashtags

#ronpaul2012

1 ½.  Keeping Jokes Alive

You ever had one of those friends who wanted to be funny but wasn’t funny, so when they found a line that made people chuckle, they’d stick to it like teenage girls to Robert Pattinson’s abdomen?  They’d say it a couple times, and everyone would just chuckle politely like, “Hey, yeah… good one there… buddy.”  But really in their heads, you’re all thinking, “Would someone get this guy to shut up and move on?  Maybe if I stare at my pencil’s eraser hard enough, he’ll take the hint!”

That’s the internets.  All of them.  Someone needs to make another “We Didn’t Start the Fire” with all the jokes the internetseseseses have killed off.

Remember “demotivational posters”?  Weren’t they funny… for a whole 5 minutes!  Demotivational posters were funny because either the tagline undercut the profundity of the image or vice-versa.  There was a clash between the epic scenes of achievement and ponderous, moody portraits that typify motivational posters and the cynical statement beneath that only reserved to redouble the lack of motivation the poster aimed to solve.  Or the clash was between an inspirational quote and an image that displayed the exact opposite happening in a humorous bit of “where’s your God now?”  That’s it.  I just explained the joke and forever ruined the humor of the demotivational poster for you.  I don’t feel bad.  It was already ruined years ago by too many “make your own” websites and too many teenagers jumping on the bandwagon thinking they’re funny without understanding what makes the gag work.

Someone stop me before I explain another joke away.

1 ¼.  Oops Control

If you put something on Facebook or Twitter or your blog or really anywhere on the intorwebs, it’s public.  Anyone, anyone can see it.  Anyone can find out about it.  It only takes a split-second to screenshot something, to preserve its authenticity even if it is deleted.

Why can’t our public figures remember this?

It’s bad enough for the job prospects of the average Joe to be ruined by some long-undiscovered photo on Facebook or for the quibbles of petty middle school students to be preserved for posterity, but how many public servants and celebrities have made themselves notorious over some stupid momentary lapse of judgment (or years-long lapse of judgment)?  They must have an ironclad belief that “it can’t happen to me!”

Like the great Abe Lincoln once said, “It is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.”

1. Being a Decent F#$ing Human Being

I’m just going to come out and say it. Internet trolls are soulless, blood-sucking vermin. They just are. Imagine having Rush Limbaugh in your computer all the time.

Trolling, for those of you fortunate enough to have not witnessed the dark side of the human experiment that is online interaction, is the act of pretending to advocate a controversial position, to hold an extremely toxic personality, or to be a false ‘helper’ in order to upset other people and take amusement in their frustration. It is the worst of juvenile vindictiveness—filling one’s own idleness and internal void with schadenfreude, pleasure in the pain of others. The motivation to troll is exacerbated by a hyper-masculine notion that it’s the victim’s fault for getting upset and that the troll becomes the intellectual and existential superior for tricking the victim into anger.

Trolling’s origins lies in the early days of widespread internet use. There was an era before iTunes and YouTube, when Flash animations roamed the interspace and online forums and chat rooms sucked the life out of people looking for human interaction on a computer. Hiding behind an anonymous user name and avatar, trolls would patrol around a site, looking for a conversation to derail or a sucker to exploit with trollish insensitivity. This often involved jumping into a conversation saying something intentionally offensive and challenging all other participants to convince the troll that his own statement was wrong*.

This goes hand-in-hand with the pseudo-intellectual or “retarded but only ironically” attitudes and dispositions taken up as part of the troll character. The troll would then simply respond to all replies with insults and intentionally weak and provocative arguments, needing little text and even less thought to incite paragraph-length rebuttals from angry users. Rather than admit being “convinced” that the position they never honestly believed in the first place was wrong, the troll would simply disappear after wasting hours of people’s time.

Trolling eventually evolved to be more… complex isn’t the word. Vindictive? As people learned how to use links and upload files, trolls would post rick-roll links or simply upload a file infected with malware and trick others into clicking. As people became more aware of trolling, trolls became more subtle—changing their tone to sound more sincere or simply ill-informed in order to slip under netizens’ “don’t feed the troll” radar. When massively multiplayer online games became the “thing,” novice users often found answers to their requests for assistance to be less than helpful. Seeing a new player asking how to open a certain menu, trolls would inevitably respond with a recommendation to hit ALT-F4. This closes the program, booting the user from the game until they log in again.

This is not to say that all schadenfreude is necessarily a bad thing. Our enjoyment of Tom & Jerry cartoons or America’s Funniest Home Videos (now so-called “FAIL” videos on YouTube) does not make us soulless, blood-sucking vermin. Just human. We also have long traditions of pulling pranks on each other. April Fools, anyone? These tend to be harmless and yet still funny in the long run. In the moment!!, you might be very upset or embarrassed, but you look back on it later with a certain rose-colored fondness.

It also would not be far from the truth to say Studio Gainax’s 2010 anime “Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt” (catchy name, eh?) was just an all-out attempt to troll the studio’s fanbase. Every aspect of the show was designed to strike at the nerves of Japanese otaku—American-style animation, unabashedly slutty female protagonists, temporary live action shots of clay models blowing up, comic book style on-screen sound effects in English, a black character, expanded use of English, and a dastardly twist ending in the final episode, which just so happened to air right around Christmas. The effect is… entertaining.

But schadenfreude has not done well for us in human history, either. Whether it be Romans at the Colosseum or Americans going to a circus sideshow**, humans have long held the instinct to gain amusement from the exploitation or suffering of others. We’re glad to not be them. That’s the appeal of reality TV!!!. However bad our lives are, at least it’s not as bad as those other people we ridicule. We feel like we’re a step above them. We’re the better people; that’s why we don’t have to eat cockroaches for shock value on national TV.

That may sound petty, and in some ways it is. But think about it—someone actively sought opportunities to do this. Someone made the conscious decision that this is how they want to spend their time and amuse themselves. Someone went out of their way to do something that had no effect whatsoever except to upset some people they never met. The person doing this gains absolutely nothing at all from this activity but is willing to do it in order to achieve the aim of making someone else spend their free time in a state of anger and irritation instead of relaxation and entertainment.

And this wasn’t just one loathsome prick. It happened over and over and over again. Lots of people doing it, all over the internets. All over YOUR internets. So much so that it became a “thing.” And it has endured as a practice for well over a decade, as it will continue to do.

The internet has thus empowered people to victimize more people more harshly over a greater amount of time and distance with no repercussions, and people have gleefully swarmed at the chance to take advantage of this. Think about what that says about human nature. Internet trolls are proving that Hobbes was right.

I have found the cure-all for trolls, however, and it is this. Take a couple minutes to watch it, and I’ll get back to you.

Just let me know when you’re done.

I’ll be right here.


Tum tee tum…

Just a small town girl…
Hmm hmm hmm…
Livin’ in a lonely wor—

Oh you’re back! Wonderful! How was it?

Does that not just heal away all your wounds and worries? I love schnauzers; they’re the best creatures with beards after Billy Connolly.

This video is also very deep and a perfect metaphor for getting angry on the internet. It always serves as a great reminder to me.

No matter how much sound and fury little Mr. Fritz makes, he will never be able to reach the windshield wipers. They are behind a certain screen. You can’t punch people through the internets; I’ve tried.

Even if Mr. Fritz could reach the windshield wipers, he wouldn’t be able to change the way they act at all. They are completely beyond his ability to control. You can’t control the kind of people that troll online. They don’t care about you, and they will just keep doing what they’re doing as long as they want to do it.

But likewise, despite all the movement and sound from the windshield wipers, they can’t ever really harm Mr. Fritz. He’s safe behind his screen. The wipers are nothing more than a distraction. Trolls only have power if you mind them. They only ever serve to take away your happiness and distract you from the productivity and/or enjoyment you could be having. So, in the words of the eenternets, don’t feed the trolls.

————————-

And that’s it. That’s the top 10 things the internets just get wrong. I hope this has been enlightening, or at least entertaining. Curl up under your kotatsu, drink some good sake, and watch the snow falling outside. It’s a good season to stay inside with our companion, our overlord, our drug, our tool, our addiction—the Internet.

 

 

* Also known as “The O’Reilly Defense”

!! You wouldn’t fall for that again, would you?

** “Gooble, gobble!  Gooble, gobble!  One of us!”

!!! Ironically, I would like to be paid millions of dollars to live in a good neighborhood and insult people for a living.

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