The Best Article You’ll Read Today (Isn’t This One)

I’m serious.

If this is the best article you’ve read today so far, then I would encourage you to read more. Maybe try this one. That is just what I had open on my desktop, there are a lot more out there.

But who knows which one will be the best to read? That’s a journey you’ll have to take alone, my young apprentice.

You may have noticed—assuming that you at any point in the last three months had access to the Internet—that there’s been an overwhelming surge of a certain type of article headline. The kind that makes whatever the article is talking about sound like it must be up there with finding a cure for all of the world’s diseases.

Things like “You Won’t Believe What Happened When This Person Did This Thing,” or “This Thing That Happened Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity.”

This type of enticing headline style is called “clickbait.” It was recently made legendary by “good-news-spreading” site Upworthy, and has been copied ad nauseum everywhere else. Sometimes it starts to get a little annoying with so many grandiose claims and so much similar wording all over your Facebook newsfeed.

Steve Hind of The Guardian writes in his In Defence of Clickbait: “When readers are lured in, and rewarded for their curiosity by good content, everyone wins.”

Sure. But what if online publishers set up promises on which they can’t deliver?

“Well duh, then no one will share it,” the readers respond.

And it’s true, to some extent. In the Darwinian world of online traffic rankings, only the interesting survive. (Kanye tweets excepted.)

But there are still a couple of repercussions to this kind of model. The first, as you might expect, is that everything becomes impossible to gauge or even take seriously. We can’t just give all of our online content participation trophy-headlines, or the same thing happens that we all felt in second-grade soccer—suddenly no one is special.

In the same way that repeated, unpoliced misuse of “your/you’re” has made even grownups unsure of correct usage, overuse of hyperbole dumbs down the awesomeness of everything.

We’re already reaching a point where having a “purely factual” headline is something only really super-respectable news sources, who already have an audience, can feel confident about. An un-established writer labeling something as “Some Thoughts I’ve Had” rather than “Something Everyone Needs to Know” is immediately dismissed. Because with all of The Most Important within our reach, why would we have time for anything else?

Another thing that irks me about this type of marketing is an assertion like “This Will Be The Best of This Type of Thing You’ll See All Day.”

Sure, there is some potential for really niche topics: a video titled “This Will Be The Best Video of A Llama Singing You See Today” will probably turn out to be accurate.

But did anyone tell these people about the Internet? I can actually go to this thing called YouTube and type in “llama singing” and find other results, which I might be inspired to do after seeing that first video that piqued my interest.

And finally, my biggest concern with clickbait is its tendency to try to predict or even mandate your reaction. Particularly lines like “You’ll Never Guess” or “This Will Make You Cry.”

Who are you, freelance Buzzfeed columnist, to tell me what I will or will not think or feel?

There is, of course, some implicit understanding that titles like this are just a recommendation of your most likely reaction, and meant merely to give you some kind of context for what type of thing you’re about to read or see. It’s better, I suppose, to be aware you’re about to watch a heart-wrenching story, before everyone hears you sobbing in your cubicle.

But that doesn’t keep lines like that from acting as the laugh tracks of the Internet. Sometimes appropriate, but sometimes painfully awkward and misplaced.

Which comes back to that issue of making promises.

Most of us grew up hearing stories like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and can’t shake the feeling that there’s something wrong with stringing your audience along. Even if they’ll keep believing you every time.

Back when newspapers and magazines had to rely on physical subscriptions, there was no room for bait-and-switch marketing. People got what they paid for, because it was the same thing that they had already gotten to know and learned to trust.

And trust is something that marketing agencies have been trying to replicate for decades, but never mastered.

I grew up with a stellar ability to overdramatize my problems when it was convenient for me. (Think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.) There were numerous factors that led to my eventual reformation, but one of them was just having a couple of professors who wouldn’t buy what I was selling. After the third “but I was so sick and busy and ran out of printer ink the day that paper was due!” they started calling me on it.

And perhaps it would be helpful to start calling these “best things ever” on their respective crap.

Am I saying that we should all boycott Upworthy? No. Stop reading Buzzfeed? Well, maybe.

But can you imagine what it must be like working at a site like that? Having to scour the world for “the BEST advice for twenty-somethings” and “the CUTEST cat picture EVER.” That’s a lot of unnecessary pressure, spawned from the success of clickbait.

Maybe we can start by presenting things with less ridiculous adjectives in our own sharing, and giving less-paraded things a chance. There’s nothing wrong with reading another article aside from the best one. It can still be good.

I think one of the reasons I like listening to NPR is that they spend so little time on convincing you to care. They don’t introduce a segment about Somalia with “This Story Will Bring You to Tears”…they just start talking about it. It’s up to you, the listener, to engage with the content and react as you see fit.

What a concept.

Maybe we could be people who are thoughtful and humble in the way that we engage with media content and each other. Giving everything a fair shot, but valuing trustworthiness above flashiness.

Wouldn’t that be just the BEST?

Image via the ever hilarious xkcd.

Weekly Roundup: Millennials And The Church

Rachel Held Evans has inspired some great insights on “Millennials” and their relationship to the church this week.

Her own thoughts, in her recent CNN piece on the subject, were mostly the same tired assertions of the liberal Christians of previous generations.  However, they prompted some excellent responses from around the web, the best of which came from Brett McCracken at the Washington Post.  Anthony Bradley makes an insightful observation at The Acton Institute, and Jake Meador takes the prize for best one-liner with his response at Mere Orthodoxy:

14 years ago John Shelby Spong said “Christianity must change or die.” Episcopalians have been doing both ever since.


Jake Tapper on CNN’s The Lead has breaking news on the Benghazi scandal:  Exclusive: Dozens of CIA operatives on the ground during Benghazi attack.


What is the greatest food in human history?  Find out here.


Why Do Americans and Brits Have Different Accents?  (I bet you didn’t know!)


What English Sounds Like to People Who Don’t Speak It:


According to “Science!” I’m smarter than you because I stay up way too late writing blog posts.  Or something like that.


The United States Marine Corps Officially Declares ‘Lack of Spiritual Faith’ as a Sign of Instability.


Was Jesus a Pacifist? (Part 1)


What Would Satan Think About Restricting Internet Porn?


Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say.  This statement is absolutely true, and you might think that the pro-life movement would be excited to see such a headline.  Unfortunately, it represents a new level of unashamed, utterly damnable evil.  In some corners of Western Academia, Molech lives.


Beautiful poem gives hopeful voice to post-abortive suffering and shame.


The Disgusting Side of Space: What Happens to Dead Skin in Microgravity


Batman and Superman discuss possible titles for their new movie (as well as how it will end):

Weekly Roundup

The Downfall of Detroit (and what it means for the rest of us).


In the wake of Detroit’s downfall, Prager University presents a new 5-minute course,  “The Public Unions vs. The Public”:


The biggest (and awesomest) news from this year’s Comic Con:  Zack Snyder announces that his sequel to Man of Steel will be the first Superman/Batman team-up film.  And there was much rejoicing.


J.K. Rowling recently made headlines (again) after it was revealed that she was actually the author of the novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, originally published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  Here’s a better story than J.K. Rowling’s.


Book nerds, guard your wallets!  An illustrated guide to buying the classics.


Apparently all Christians need to do to win back the culture for Christ is become hipsters:  A Hipster For King’s College.


The future King George of England arrived this week.  For once, the entire world knows a baby is a baby.


From the Washington Post:  Obama’s race speech offered few good solutions.


How German sounds compared to other languages:


“When I sat down in that chair at 3 p.m. I was an atheist and a Communist. When I got up at 11 p.m. I was not.”  From Mad Marxist to Compassionate Conservative.


First Iceland and now the UK:  Prime Minister David Cameron Declares War on Online Porn.


President Obama just gave a major speech at Knox College that was touted as a fresh start for the White House’s economic policies.  A centerpiece of the speech was a call to end economic inequality.  Here are 6 bad arguments about income inequality.


America’s Pathetic Support of Muslim Oppression.


The Lord of the Rings is a masterful work and already a cinema classic.  But some (philistines) have complained that the films were far too long.  Here are 8 Lines That Would Have Ended The Lord of the Rings Real Fast.