T: Hey J, do you have that seven dirty words article handy?
J: Yeah, I’ve got it right here:
The Trump administration has reportedly commanded the CDC not to use seven words in next year’s budget documents: diversity, entitlement, evidence-based, fetus, science-based, transgender, vulnerable. When I first read this mandate, I used a word that really shouldn’t be used in such documents.
T: As it turned out, this wasn’t what they said it was. It was worse, to be frank. And I’m not Frank. Or Shirley. Don’t call me Shirley. Call me Ishmael.
J: Yeah, it was worse. What the hell is “science in consideration of community standards and wishes’?
T: It’s Madison Avenue run amok. Rather than the White House being repressive, the story is that the CDC was being systematically manipulative.
J: This is actually scary. It’s an attempt to discredit science; the scary part is that there are those in Trump’s base who it would work on
T: Oh wait, you didn’t read the aftermath, did you? There was no repression, no anti-science demand. This was the other side, trying to take advantage of the Trump administration’s anti-science stances.
It was a cynical attempt, by a group tasked with speaking for the public, to dumb themselves down in order to get more money from what they perceived as a dumb government.
J: Anything trying to dumb down the CDC should be viewed with great alarm. We rely on those kinds of agencies to give us the unpleasant truth. Like during the AIDS crisis, and the SARS thing, and the Zika thing, and on and on.
T: You might argue that they were simply playing the game by the rules presented.
J: And winning.
T: But I don’t find that ennobling.
J: Nope. It’s cowardly.
T: I went looking for the second article – the one that tells us that it was the CDC itself, internally, that banned those words – and I can’t find it under the barrage of anti-Trump barking and slobbering.
This is why the left is just as bad as the right. Trump is a complex character, not a caricature.
J: What, we can’t make fun of the racist fatass anymore?
T: Well … the truth is that Donald Trump did not give the CDC seven banned words. The CDC banned the seven words from their own correspondence, because they didn’t think Trump would understand them.
J: Here’s Snopes.
Policy analysts will be instructed to avoid using seven words in budget policy documents, including “fetus” and “transgender,” say reports.
They said it was a senior person at CDC, in regards to how to present their budget.
T: Yes. But that headline? Are they trying to get the first amendment rescinded? They knew, when they wrote that headline, that the article was complete bullshit. It is incredibly irresponsible for a truth-based news organization to write misleading headlines, just to attract readers. When they give up their responsibility to the public trust, they damage the first amendement in profound, difficult-to-repair ways.
Like these completely misleading (if technically true) headlines:
Vincent Bugliosi: “Manson did not commit the murders!” (12 pages later) himself.
Walter Cronkite: “Vietnam justified!” (two minutes later) our involvement by invoking the terms of the Korean ceasefire.
Ed Murrow: “McCarthy called the greatest American!” (turn the page, for chrissakes) threat since Hitler.
J: Yeah, it’s irresponsible, but that’s the world we live in. Everything is driven by the need to get clicks.
T: Well, there were times when killing Jews was ok. I don’t have to like it. And I wouldn’t have liked it in 1940 Germany, had I been forced to live there.
If the news media refuses to hold themselves accountable, the first amendment will die of neglect.
J: No one likes it. I want the article to say what it’s about, not what some algorithm wants it to say to get clicks.
T: Yaknow what? Maybe the old media has to die. What do you think? The key is that the public has to learn how to spot bullshit, before they step in it. If they don’t, the bullshit salesmen will never go away. We’ve evolved before. Can we do it again? Please tell me society hasn’t reached its Peter Principle level of incompetence.
J: I think the old paradigm is already dead, the old-school, ink-stained reporter and all that. The media of 2017 is driven by the short attention span of most people and the all-consuming desire to get clicks.
T: Maybe – but maybe there is a newer, progressive media model that the youngsters are building, and most of us aren’t seeing it. Maybe social media is the new media, and all the surrounding click bait is just a bunch of watch salesmen and commercial hacks, trying to survive.
J: There does seem to be a backlash brewing against clickbait though. I don’t think it’ll ever be legislated out of existence, but people will stop clicking on those “one weird trick” things and “you’ll never believe what happened next” things, because they are sick unto death of going through 25 pages of ads.
T: To see forward, I like to look backward; to see the next stretch of road, sometimes it’s easier to see if you look back on the last few miles for perspective.
J: I think the clickbait is meant for the youngsters, the short-attention-span types, the ones who grew up with 140 characters being enough to express a thought.
T: Clickbait is meant for everyone, I think. I’m not immune to bright light, any more than the next moth.
J: The older people, people like us who actually read articles, aren’t the target audience, not really anyway.
T: Oh, yes we are. Let me see if I can prove it with a few historical examples:
Fire – Old fogeys: “who wants burned food?”
The water closet – Old fogeys: “Are you kidding? Who would want to shit inside their house, and stink up the joint?”
Truth? Everybody. Invest in Fabreze.
Cars – Old fogeys: “Get a horse!”
Truth? Try riding your horse to 7-11. You don’t have one? Well, do you have a car?
Television – Old fogeys: “Turn off that idiot box! You want real entertainment? Listen to the blasted radio!”
Truth? All those radio shows became television shows. Radio is still around, but more as background noise while driving, working or cleaning.
Microwave ovens, tv dinners, mac and cheese, frozen lasagna, etc. were all originally thought to be for young people, but quickly became staples for everyone.
The clickbaiters aren’t aiming for children, but for people in a hurry. Who are they? The harried and hurried aren’t the short-attention-span youth – young people have all the time in the world. The short-attention-span theater is filled with mature people who have a lot of work to do, or elderly people they feel like they are running out of time.
T: I don’t know if any of that is convincing, but I do know that most large-scale innovation looks like it’s for the young, but to be successful it has to appeal to everyone. Click bait appeals to everyone.
J: It’s not convincing, at least not completely. The youth of today have grown up with Twitter and FB and memes and getting their news and information in little bite-size chunks. I bet most kids under 30 today don’t even read news articles; they read the headlines and look for memes that a) explain the headlines and b) support their preconceived notions, whatever those are. That’s not to say that the people writing the clickbait are ignoring older people, because they’re not; not all of us are Luddites sitting on our respective front porches with our shotguns across our laps. But we aren’t the primary drivers of the rise of clickbait. That’s the kids.
T: Kids these days …. I don’t buy it. It’s fogeyism. I’ll tell you what: you see if you can convince me with reason.
J: OK, let’s look at the stats.
Facebook usage and engagement is on the rise, while adoption of other social networking platforms holds steady.
T: I’m not sure what you mean to prove with this article. If anything, their data proves that everything eventually gets adopted by older people; younger people are simply quicker to pick up technology.
That scans; I bet most car owners were younger people early on as well. Does that mean cars were invented because young people wouldn’t ride horses?
J: And here’s some more numbers. The Reader’s Digest version is that most social-media users are under 40; the average age of Twitter users is 37 and that’s one of the higher numbers.
Do you know how old the average Twitter or Facebook user is? Do you know what share of Reddit’s users are women? We could go on and on; when it comes to social network demographics, the questions are endless. This article is going to answer those questions for you, showing you the age and gender d…
T: Twitter isn’t short attention span, any more than Facebook is. Go check to see how many characters show up in any single Facebook feed. Also, Twitter just doubled its size, to satisfy demand. If it’s the younger people demanding longer tweets, what does that tell you?
J: That’s my point. People don’t read 500-word posts on Facebook (at least I don’t, not generally anyway). They look for memes, charts, quick things that explain what they’re seeing in the headlines. The trouble with that is that the sites producing the memes are usually slanted so hard they couldn’t make a martini without the olive rolling off the table.
T: But are those young people? You are 54 years old.
J: Yeah, and I read articles, too.
T: Oh, I know you do – I’ve seen you devour a full-length novel like it was a pamphlet – but I bet you skim a lot more than you think you do.
I like reading longer stuff, too, but because we have access to so much material, I think we tend to skim more online content than we would if it was limited. We might read more total content, but we read a lower percentage of the content we open. I know I do.
And I’m older than you.
J: I know. I have your final resting place already picked out.
T: It’s a dumpster, isn’t it?
J: No comment.
T: J, you are part of that crowd. That’s my stance. We all are. Human beings have attention spans that adjust to conditions, just like everything else. We are self-regulating machines. We adjust our attention spans to conditions. And the internet is a condition.
J: We read more than most people because we’re both skeptics by nature, and we want to get as much information as we can about something before we form our opinions. The younger set doesn’t do that; they see something that conforms with their preconceived notions, something they heard in a Poli-sci class, something their mom said, whatever, and they take it in and make it their gospel.
T: Kids these days … you old fogey.
J: well, I’m a fogey, so I’m given to fogeyism.
T: Reading books is a perfect analogy to riding horses, I think. The only people still reading books are the ones who have been reading them for years. People will still read books – people still ride horses – but we’ll get most of our information in shorter bursts. Because we can, not because we are lazy. And hardcover books may eventually become a luxury. In 200 years, a good hardcover novel might cost a thousand dollars or more.
J: I’m not saying that it’s inherently bad not to read nonfiction or to get your information from memes… what is bad is not being skeptical about what you’re seeing.
T: Oh, I agree with that – but I disagree with your axis. It’s not young to old. It’s generally along the Trump voter axis, though. Go away from the ocean … get whiter … get less educated … get sicker … get more prone to using mind altering substances, cigarettes and alcohol … and you go in that direction. Read less, be less skeptical, be more prone to buying what your television tells you to buy. The Tell-a-vision.
J: I wonder if there are any stats on that. I wonder how many under-30s, say, read a whole nonfiction book of any kind in the last year.
T: Kids these days … little click baiters.
J: Well, goddamn it, if I can’t make sweeping generalizations about kids today, who can I make them about?
T: Trump voters, orangutans and hookers
J: At least I’ve still got that. I was worried for a minute there.
T: And a lot of hookers have hearts of absolute garbage, so that whole heart of gold thing is out, too.
J: Oh, I never assumed that they had hearts of gold. I figured they were in it for the money. I mean, if that’s your only marketable skill, you gotta figure you’ve made some bad career choices along the line.
T: What were the seven words, by the way? Weren’t we talking about seven dirty words or something?
J: Diversity, entitlement, evidence-based, fetus, science-based, transgender, and vulnerable.
T: Those filthy assholes.