In 2013, the Internet reached new depths of shallow manipulation. Between the oppressively stupid and obnoxiously hyperbolic viral content from the Buzzfeed set, the soul-killing validation cycles of social media participation, and the overall assault on our collective intelligence, it’s all become a bit fatiguing. Luckily, though, some of us can still muster a bit of good old-fashioned anger in the midst of our addiction. The 10 articles below are the premier examples of Internet writers expressing their rage at the massive web that has us all stuck and writhing. In no particular order, these were the best of the best.
(Thanks to Michael Burgin, @jl_weber, @bblyon, and @pricebrittany for help compiling this list.)
1. “The Twidiocracy: The Decline of Western civilization, 140 Characters at a Time”
Author: Matt Labash
The Gist: Pretty self-explanatory here; Labash hates Twitter for all the usual reasons. But it’s the tenor of his rant and the ardor of his prose that distinguishes this particular essay as a classic of the genre. With fire in his fingertips, Labash lays out exactly how the cycle of validation bred into the Twitter culture ends up creating anxiety-riddled minds with shallow thoughts and distorted perspectives.
Excerpt: “If you haven’t gathered by now, I’m not a Twitter fan. In fact, I outright despise the inescapable microblogging service, which nudges its users to leave no thought unexpressed, except for the fully formed ones (there’s a 140-characters-per-tweet limit). I hate it not just because the Twidiocracy constantly insists I should love it, though that certainly helps. Being in the media profession (if “profession” isn’t overstating things), where everyone flocked en masse to the technology out of curiosity or insecurity or both, I’ve hated it reflexively since its beginning. But with time’s passage and deliberation, I’ve come to hate it with deeper, more variegated richness. I hate the smugness of it, the way the techno-triumphalists make everyone who hasn’t joined the Borg feel like they’ve been banished to an unpopulated island…”
2. “The Thought Catalog Revolution: How Trolling Took Over the Internet”
Author: Daniel D’Addario
The Gist: D’Addario’s piece is nominally about the trollish website Thought Catalog, but it quickly becomes so much more, eventually blossoming into a quality rant about the shallow “incendiary” content all across the Internet desperately trying to elicit any reaction from readers in the service of the one true web God: More clicks.
Excerpt: “There are many paths to traffic: One is to invest heavily in a quality product. Whatever one thinks of Snow Fall, the New York Times’ influential attempt to draw readers with a visually complex story, it certainly was the product of time and effort. Less so are the likes of Thought Catalog pieces like “If You Want a Blowjob, Wash Your Damn Dicks” or “Melissa McCarthy: Stop Being Fat And Stupid.” Or the side-boob provocations of the sillier corners of the Huffington Post, or Henry Blodget at Business Insider asking why anti-Semitism exists, or the dubiously sourced “inspirational” tales on Viral Nova, or the curdled insistence upon the contrarian read of just about everything across the Web.”
3. “From Here, You Can See Everything”
Author: James A. Pearson
The Gist: Pearson’s article actually focuses on television (building off the philosophy of David Foster Wallace from Infinite Jest), but his thoughts on on how consumption is changing our brains and creating malformed technology addicts both touches on, and is easily translatable to, the Internet.
Excerpt: “An optimally adapted parasite takes as much from its host as possible without damaging the viability of the host. In order for us to stay viable hosts for the media parasite, we need only enough waking hours away from media to make money and to spend that money on advertisers’ offerings and/or media’s costs (and of course to feed ourselves and, like, stay alive). Media will gladly take all our other hours. Think about normal adult American life: After working, spending, and consuming media, how many hours do we really have left? Of course it will never get all of our spare time. But it captures more of our hours every year. Media is on an evolutionary trajectory, a curve bringing it closer and closer and closer to Infinite Jest.”
4. “Your Guide To The Boston Marathon Bombing Amateur Internet Crowd-Sleuthing”“
Author: Adrian Chen
The Gist: The amateur detective movement in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing was one of the saddest media moments of the year, not least because it nearly ruined two innocent people’s lives. The central hub of this bogus sleuthing was Reddit, which compiled pictures of “suspicious” people standing near the finish line where the bomb went off. The great thing about Chen’s article is that he pinpointed in Reddit’s witch-hunt for the Boston marathon bomber before the rest of us even knew it was a witch-hunt. He called out the “groundless speculation” as it happened, and took a step back from the hysteria to correctly recognize the “hive mind” for what it was—a group of over-excited wannabe sleuths mindlessly condemning anyone of dark complexion who had the audacity to be wearing a backpack on Boylston Street that day.
Excerpt: “This album from imgur, titled 4chan ThinkTank, is probably the most definitive look at the internet hive mind at work. It’s a mess of captions and blurry close-up photos that apparently show the work of 4chan members in trying to track down the bomber. Currently it has over 350,000 views. Most of these are repeats from above, but also identify a handful of additional brown people with backpacks, sort of like racist Where’s Waldo.”
5. “I Hate Buzzfeed”
The Gist: This list would be incomplete without a rant against Buzzfeed, the worst site in the universe, and in this case, Maddox is the vitriolic man for the job (and it turns out he’s still around!). First things first, watch the video, and then visit the article for some excellent rage-prose. Believe me, it’ll feel good.
Excerpt: “When I liken BuzzFeed to a cancer on the Internet, it’s not just hyperbole. A cancer spreads throughout an organism, taking over healthy cells and displacing them with something unhealthy, which doesn’t serve the body’s purpose anymore. The site isn’t just a blight on the web, it’s actually changing the fabric of the Internet. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and most other social networks have become little more than repositories for links to list articles. The net effect has caused a shift in expectation for the average Internet reader, away from thoughtful, purpose-driven content that informs, to cheap, superfluous filler that distracts.”
6. “All LinkedIn with Nowhere to Go”
Author: Ann Friedman
The Gist: Getting an email from LinkedIn is one of those really small annoyances that make life on the Internet more difficult, but rarely do you see the online resume site as an actual think piece target. Ann Friedman changes all that with a strong takedown of what she calls “frenetic networking-by-vague-association.” In a wonderful little visual, she concludes that LinkedIn is “an Escher staircase masquerading as a career ladder.”
Excerpt: “In reality, though, the job seeker tends to experience the insular world of LinkedIn connectivity as an irksome ritual of digital badgering. Instead of facing the prospect of interfacing professionally with a nine-figure user base with a renewed spring in their step, harried victims of economic redundancy are more likely to greet their latest LinkedIn updates with a muttered variation of, “Oh shit, I’d better send out some more résumés.” At which point, they’ll typically mark the noisome email nudge as “read” and relegate it to the trash folder.”
7.”Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So Captivating”
Author: Will Leitch
The Gist: Every December, Deadspin founder and Sports on Earth senior writer Will Leitch takes over Drew Magary’s excellent “Jamboroo” series for a week. Before Leitch gets into that week’s slate of NFL games, he’s usually good for an intelligent rant about the Internet—in 2012, he tackled the “tyranny of stupid popular things,” and in 2011 he identified why Twitter drives us insane—and this year was no exception as he used the Justine Sacco incident as a jumping-off point for an essay on how our online personae are subsuming our real-life personalities.
Excerpt: “The disconnect between who we are online and off has always been a central tension of the online age. The person I am in my daily life—the guy who goes to the grocery store, and jogs, and stays up too late drinking and watching old movies, and changes diapers, and checks in on his sister, and has a hat collection, and folds his laundry—has nothing to do with my online life, even if I’m the same person in both. We are always heightened online; we compulsively try to make our lives, to consider our lives, more interesting than they actually are. This has mostly been balanced by the fact that we don’t actually live most of our lives online; that place is the avatar, the blurred but brightened version of the regular person walking around. But in an age of Twitter, and especially mobile, that person is slowly fading. The person we are online is who we are.”
8. “4 Reasons ‘Viral Content’ Stopped Mattering in 2013”
Author: Cody Johnston
The Gist: On a site that publishes its own fair share of click bait, Johnston writes an excellent takedown of stupid, hyperbolic viral culture native to Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and their awful ilk. This will not restore your faith in humanity. Also, there’s a fun irony in the viral-style title here.
Excerpt: “Everyone tried so hard to go “viral” this year that the word barely has any meaning anymore. Virality didn’t just jump the shark. It ate Henry Winkler, shit him into the underground oceans of Europa, and then did a kick-flip over the frozen turds. Going viral has looked into infinity, and it cannot return.”
9. “For 2014, Tweet Less, Read More”
Author: Frank Bruni
The Gist: Bruni’s message is fairly basic—Twitter feeds our darkest impulses, while reading fiction nourishes empathy. Online, we are cruel reactionaries, whereas offline we are better, more considerate people who actually take time to think about important issues before firing off an angry response.
Excerpt: It feels at times as if contemplation has given way to expectoration, with speed overtaking sense and nuance exiting the equation. And I’m talking about more than the rising count of reputations forfeited and careers dashed in 140 characters or fewer, of crackups like that of a prominent New York publicist who recently tweeted what she apparently meant to be a joke about not having to worry about AIDS in Africa because she’s white…I’m talking about a revved-up metabolism and roughened-up manners.
10. “The Year We Broke The Internet”
Author: Luke O’Neill
The Gist: O’Neill’s target is the “feckless” media that sacrifices accuracy for speed, and double-dips without penalty on the eventual correction/retraction if the original story turns out to be a hoax. In other words, it’s the end of accountability.
Excerpt: “The media has long had its struggles with the truth—that’s nothing new. What is new is that we’re barely even apologizing for increasingly considering the truth optional. In fact, the mistakes, and the falsehoods, and the hoaxes are a big part of a business plan driven by the belief that big traffic absolves all sins, that success is a primary virtue. Haste and confusion aren’t bugs in the coding anymore, they’re features.”
Enjoy the essays, and if I’ve left any out, link them in the comments. Happy New Year?