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An open letter to your pointless open letters

| Monday, September 12, 2016

This generation deserves a better class of internet. And we all should start giving it to them.

The internet has grown from a novel bit of technology to an essential means for the general public to communicate, find entertainment and receive information. However, it is our generation’s abuse of this brilliant innovation that has begun to threaten the preservation of this significant status that now allows it to stand alongside milestones such as the telephone, radio and broadcast television.

I now live in a world where both my peers (who are mostly college-educated members of society) and the media (who are mostly professionals in information distribution) seem to think that they are benefitting the general public by saturating the internet with billions of gigabytes of unnecessary noise. I don’t take issue with using the internet for entertainment. I’m just as big a fan of Parks and Recreation GIFs and Harambe memes as the next guy. I’ll even admit that Amy Schumer’s unamusing Comedy Central sketches aren’t the core of this plague that is slowly infecting cyberspace at large.

No, when I speak of “unnecessary noise,” I refer two movements that are spreading at an alarming rate: the rise of “clickbait” and “listicles” and the escalation of redundancy.

Clickbait is the monster created by the same people whose job is to create pop-up ads and phishing emails. The popular article headline format began on blogs and entertainment sites but has since become standard for reputable news sources who want increased readership. Clickbait plays with the not-so-difficult-to-figure-out psychology of human curiosity. Headlines featuring phrasing such as “You’ll Never Guess Why…”; “What Happens Next Will Surprise You!”; and “What We Found Was Shocking,” teases everyone’s natural inclination to find truth, just as that spam email claiming that the prince of a non-existent African nation needs your help (and social security number) to get back to his family’s fortune makes you hesitate before clicking “delete” (“because what if he does plan on giving me 11 million dollars if I click this link!”).

Working together like thunder and lightning, the clickbait title is rarely unaccompanied by its similarly useless companion, the listicle. If you seek to call yourself a journalist but lack any literacy whatsoever, meet the listicle, an “article” (for lack of a better term) that is literally a list of things, usually supplemented by animated GIFs of quotes from mid-2000s movies that are completely unrelated to the topic of your nonsensical list.

These tools are now commonplace on the webpages of blogs and news sites everywhere, but the worst offenders include Odyssey Online and The Tab (which offer college students the opportunity to obtain “real experience” in journalism by getting published on the internet, allowing them to go on to become professional YouTubers, I suppose), which are only outdone by the Antichrist of productivity, usefulness, and all that is right in the world, BuzzFeed.

These sites pride themselves on producing trash by millennials for millennials, featuring meaningful (and #relatable) articles with headlines such as “How to enjoy being single,” “33 surprising things you probably didn’t know about ‘The Notebook,’” and “17 lighthearted death threat t-shirts for dads contemplating murder.”

The second source of this cancerous “internet noise” is one that is more easily subdued than the multi-billion-dollar industry known as “internet procrastination.” The problem of redundant and unnecessary posting was a plight first seen in the earliest days of social media (as your Facebook posts from 2011 will remind you), and it was people’s adversity to this sharing constant status updates and every random thought that popped into their heads that allowed social media platforms to morph into the instantaneous sources of news and humor that they are today. However, after several years of apathy towards this original purpose for social networks, people have begun to fill everyone’s phone’s notifications with the same junk they were five years ago.

Fifteen years following September 11, 2001, the most despicable terror attacks on American soil in the nation’s history, I can only imagine the collective reactions of the internet’s 3 billion users had that dreadful event occurred in 2016. Based on the reactions to recent terror attacks such as those in Paris and Orlando, it wouldn’t be difficult to predict the deluge of somber essay-long posts excessively utilizing the word “solidarity,” the “#PrayforNY” hashtags, and the red, white and blue temporary profile pictures that would have filled my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds for days had these internet communication platforms existed at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Because yes, just as the Supreme Court was sure to check that enough people changed their profile pictures to rainbows before they ruled on the gay marriage issue, when a tragedy occurs, God has one of the archangels count up all the tweets containing your “prayerful” hashtags.

While I’m sure those of my peers participating in the aforementioned social media reactions to current events mean well, they should realize that under no circumstances can their reverent or upset post that received over 200 “likes” have any outcome other than taking up space on my computer screen. It’s “viral” movements such as these, whose only accomplishment is filling space, wasting time and “blowing hot air,” that must be stopped (in addition to those amateur opinion pieces on the superiority of Birkenstocks over Chacos and uneducated Facebook opinions on why Communism is the obvious solution to all of our sociopolitical problems).

Even so, everyone deserves the freedom to say what he desires online. As the definitive television caricature of the Libertarian Party once held, “The whole point of this country is [that] if you want to eat garbage, balloon up to 600 pounds, and die of a heart attack at 43, you can. You are free to do so.” But, as with the First Amendment right to free speech, we do have a responsibility to use the internet for sharing accurate information and informed opinions.

And seriously, nobody cares about your temporary profile picture.

Julian Mancini’s column is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Mr. Elias Howe, who, in 1846, invented the sewing machine. He is a sophomore at Notre Dame studying Civil Engineering with a minor in Collaborative Innovation. Send amusing photoshops and sarcastic remarks to [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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