Feb. 4, 2015

Internet Outrage Fatigue Syndrome (IOFS)

The 1980s were a scary time to be a kid. At least that is if you watched the evening news. Every night at 6 and 11 you'd be apprised of a new mortal danger, lurking just around the corner. Sometimes it would even be within your own home. You'll hear all about it, after this commercial break.

The ratings wars among local TV newscasts had by this time long come to a head. Stations had found that by far the most effective way to garner viewers was to appeal to emotional instincts. Namely, fear. What thing lurking in your home can kill you? You clearly need to know. It's a matter of life or death! How could you not stay tuned until after the next commercial break?

Luckily, time marches on. For most everyone under the age of 40, the evening news is a distant memory. Nowadays, sophisticated paradigms of modernity that we are, we get our news from the Internet. Streaming through our browsers and phones at all hours of the night and day, we have access to points, counter-points, and sometimes even counter-counter-points. We would never be so silly as to go searching under our kitchen sinks for the boogeyman. How quaint our forebears were!

But hold on a second, what's this now? A celebrity has said something racist? Republicans want to shackle all women to the kitchen stove? Investment bankers are skinning the poor and wearing their skins as suits? Why, this is outrageous! I ought to...well, certainly the first thing I ought to do is click on this link and read the article to learn all about it. And then, I must share it! With an appropriately witty rejoinder of my own, I could garner likes and retweets in the dozens, if not hundreds!

That was close. Racism has been solved. Women retain their freedom for another day. Social justice has been achieved. It's a good thing I was here, paying attention! Who knows what might have happened?

Well, maybe we aren't so clever as we thought, after all. At the end of the day, we're still being emotionally manipulated in order to sell advertising. Instead of fear, now it's anger. You're a good person. You don't want others to suffer injustice. So, naturally, when you hear about it, you want to do something. But what have you done, really, by reading an article? Is that celebrity going to be less racist now? Are Republican legislators going to suddenly start supporting women's rights? It seems unlikely. So what's being accomplished here?

I feel like I've gotten a little off track here. I want to make it clear that I acknowledge that the issues here are real problems. Racism, sexism, corporate malfeasance, etc are all serious issues that need to be addressed. Just like the example of the evening news, preventing your kid from drinking drain cleaner is definitely a legitimate concern to have. The problem is that the types of articles mentioned do absolutely nothing to address these issues. Rather, they cynically manipulate well-intentioned people to drive advertising revenue. In fact, if we ever did actually beat racism, sexism, etc. many of these "news" organizations would probably go out of business.

Aside from all that, it's just physically exhausting to be angry all the time. At some point, you just have to accept that there is pretty much a never-ending supply of terrible shit going on in the world at any given time, and there's not a lot you can do about it. To that end, I recommend tuning out those who would demand you focus your attention on this or that injustice, and instead concentrate on things you can personally influence. Life's too short to let strangers' profit motives rule your emotions.