This is the second part of The Petri Dish trilogy. The first part was on the inexplicable anger of complete strangers.
Imagine you are the editor of a television newsroom. Your viewers don’t have time to digest every news story because the world is a big place. It’s your job to prioritise and package this information, just give them the important facts. Your desk is cluttered with stories, some of which are still developing and the truth is unclear. Your gaze skims across them.
Boko Haram continuing to wreak mayhem in Nigeria. Death toll from fighting in Libya continues to rise. Fears that Russian troops are operating within Ukraine. IS continues to make gains in Iraq, forcing Obama to send the troops in, again. Unrest in Ferguson over the police shooting of Michael Brown. Bill Cosby is in the news, but not for good reasons. Greek government workers take down most of the country’s infrastructure in a protest against austerity. Women are dying in India after a mass-sterilization exercise goes badly wrong. European space probe lands on a comet – but will it stay there? Bird flu virus has been discovered in the Netherlands. The World Chess Championship is taking place. 18 people are killed by a fire in carrot packaging plant in Shandong.
I lied. You’re not an editor of a newsroom but a social media addict.
Every day you live the flood, your smartphone saturated with raw news, often lacking context, often buried in strong personal bias. No one is going to pay you to figure out the truth or decide what events are more important than others.
How do you deal with this?
Education is important. All sorts of bad things happen if we stop learning. We can get exploited. We may stop trying to change the world. But we live in the information age and there is no longer an excuse for ignorance. Ignorance is no virtue. It is your job to stay on top of the flood.
It’s good to feel ahead of the news curve. If someone tells you that the researchers have suggested the appendix might have a purpose, you can tell them you already read about that. But sometimes you make a mistake. You believe something you saw in the flood and did not question it. You tell everyone about Lars Andersen in that mad video about how old, forgotten archery techniques are superior – and then someone tells you to take a reality check.
The truth is there is no truth. Every fact is a trapdoor, which falls open to reveal a bottomless pit of caveats and inconsistencies.
Eventually, you realise scepticism is the only position that is entirely safe. Just keep pointing out the trapdoor. For example, try out “it sounds too good to be true”. Or maybe “I doubt that’s a first”. My personal favourite is “I don’t see any statistics to back that up”.
No one likes to feel like an idiot but it’s not just about trying to look good in front of others. It’s also about trust. When someone lets you down repeatedly, trust is worn away. The same thing happens to businesses and corporations – if they let you down, they lose your loyalty, your custom.
Maybe you liked the crowdfunding model in the beginning, but then you noticed half of the projects you backed died in the womb or failed to deliver their promised rewards… and the shine came off. Kudos to every gaming website for getting you hyped for CLANG and then letting you know it failed. And let’s keep on throwing donations to help out hand-to-mouth media corporations like Warner Bros. Entertainment; they thank you, the fans, for covering the risk of making Veronica Mars.
Everyone is like “oh trailers are such lies” but then there’s a bout of irrational madness when a trailer for No Man’s Sky or Hyper Light Drifter is posted. LOL. Rollseyes. It’d be nice if the wisdom of crowds really could determine whether a Kickstarter project would succeed or fail, but it’s more like the wisdom of trailer cool determines whether the project gets funded. Don’t think just feel. You know it’s better not to talk about any project at all, for fear of encouraging more people to throw money at the Screen of Doomed Projects. Let other people do it. Stupid people.
Like, the worst thing about F2P is that we can read about it. All that stuff about Zynga’s intensive A/B testing on Farmville to ensure peak addiction. Man, they love their skinner boxes. You can be sure when someone titles a talk “Monetizing Teens in a Safe and Legal Manner” it’s going to be all over Twitter and for about three days all you can see are scoffs in 140 characters or less.
Hey, you heard of the marshmallow experiment? It’s a depressing piece of research that seemed to show that if you’re not very good at waiting for a marshmallow as a child, the rest of your life is likely to be abject failure. Well, the F2P industry came up with the energy mechanic – wait for a recharge to play again or pay for it right now – to monetize the shit out of the marshmallow principle and it became a staple.
But wait it’s not new at all as vested interests and preying on psychology has been part and parcel of every business from time immemorial what do you think capitalism is celebrities endorse products they never use coin-operated arcade videogames were tweaked to let you play just long enough before the difficulty ratcheted up everything is exploitation to an extent look even this video about “juicing” up your games is about making users achieve dopamine highs from even the most dull mechanics so it’s just the same it’s all the same all the same it’s all just a machine reaching for your wallet and distracting you with the feel good but you don’t feel good any more do you
you don’t feel good any more
god what is happening to you
The internet is a Petri dish which harbours the perfect conditions for a culture of cynicism. The only antidote is to embrace the simple things. Maybe, for you, it’s PewDiePie with his brofist. Maybe you like those React videos. Maybe you like videos of cats. There’s nothing threatening here.
You start to wonder whether ignorance is the price of bliss, but you realise the cats don’t care about that.
This is no time for thinking. Cats are great.
But David Foster Wallace predicted a hopeful turn. He could see a new wave of artistic rebels who “might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels… who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles… Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue.” Yet Wallace was tentative and self-conscious in describing these rebels of sincerity. He suspected they would be called out as “backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic.” He didn’t know if their mission would succeed, but he knew real rebels risked disapproval. As far as he could tell, the next wave of great artists would dare to cut against the prevailing tone of cynicism and irony, risking “sentimentality,” “overcredulity” and “softness.”
- Dogs are also great.
- Javy Gwaltney tweeted out a recommend for a Polygon article while simultaneously complaining about its clickbait headline. I immediately reacted with “got you to read it, mission accomplished”. Old habits die hard.
- The marshmallow experiment is more likely a reflection of a difficult upbringing rather than an indicator of a self-destructive trait.