I began collecting headlines*
Why Does T Remain So Witless About the World?
Will T be the Death of the Goldwater Rule?
What Did DT learn in Texas?
What Would War With North Korea Look Like?
Could T alone kill Obamacare?
The Beginning of the End for T?
Will T Fire Rod Rosenstein?
Is T’s Vanity a Threat to the Economy?
Will T Abandon a Reckless Saudi Prince?
Is Fraud Part of T Organization’s Business Model?
Does T Think The War on Terror Is Over?
Is Optimism Dead in the T Era?
Can T Invoke Emergency Powers for the Wall?
Does Congress Care About T’s Emergency?
Is America T’s Banana Republic?
Are We In A Constitutional Crisis?
Is T Provoking A War?
Will T Outsource the Border Crisis to Mexico?
Headlines have a several functions: they should grab our attention, give us the gist of the topic, and make us curious enough to keep reading. In the digital attention economy, the most successful headlines elicit a flurry of clicks, followed by hungry eyeballs. That’s the goal. Hijacking the amygdala or viscerally activating your mirror neurons can all be strategically planned. Platforms that draw crowds know well what it takes to move the masses to click, comment and keep the attention machine running at high speed.
We’re tied up in this business model. In our attempts to stay informed, up to date, critically aware, we also click, click, click our way from one data mongering platform to the next leaving our digital breadcrumbs that will make others well off. Meanwhile these same platforms heap more oil on the dumpster fire of liberal democracies, and we all watch our precious civil liberties disintegrate before our very eyes. Somehow the profitable 1% will survive every political weather – they own our media, their power will not wane anytime soon.
And those headlines, increasingly designed “for your eyes only”, play us one song in 10,000 variations. It’s the song of inevitability, of market forces, of the End of Times. We listen over and over again because it’s ubiquitous and to be honest, it’s kinda catchy. Like the crime novel we can’t put down, we keep turning the pages of this ever unfolding horror story that doles out these pin prick closed questions: Will T do this? Can T do that? Each query a stab at our previously held beliefs about governance and decency and legality.
Here’s what we can do: Listen to folks who know these ropes. Take their advice, learn from their example.
Take the headlines for what they are: Click-bait with a chance of substance. Read carefully, astutely. Follow Mike Caulfield who is my go-to expert in all things media literacy, especially fact-checking and avoiding disinformation.
Above all recognize that there is no need to go it alone. There are good people all over the internet doing good, meaningful things. There are helpful resources and we can support each other in finding and applying those resources. I resent the complicity of mainstream media in surrendering so fully to the tug of the attention economy and away from shoring up democratic norms through transparency, critical reporting and by countering bigotry. But I see this is where are and not elsewhere.
My illusions are no more. The scales have fallen from my eyes. The trouble is deep and so are our resources if we get our act together.
*2-3 times per week since mid 2017, I have consented to The New Yorker sending me updates to my mailbox on their latest editions. And through the headlines, I noticed patterns. The headlines above are a selection of e-mail headers that I received.