Why Is the Internet So Stupid?
The Internet is a wonderful place—it’s the information superhighway, a wonderful resource, it provides a valuable soapbox for thousands of different voices. It gives everyone a chance to make their voice heard. The web changes our idea of media.
But really, why does so much of the Internet have to be so stupid? Online magazines such as Slate and the Daily Beast have so much potential—they have the ability to provide late-breaking news and trenchant commentary. And they do—sometimes. But they also seem to feel a need to print dreadfully stupid, pointless drivel.
Take Slate. It has some talented writers—Christopher Hitchens is often brilliant, and John Dickerson and Christopher Beam (among others) bring interesting views to the magazine. And it’s owned by the Washington Post, so its owners know journalism.
But the front page of Slate features a) an article which explains how Obama used a “new emotion” called elevation to boost his presidential bid, which proves that well-crafted speeches inspire people (no way!), b) an article claiming that the Pirates have outsourced their bullpen to India (because they’ve invited two Indians to spring training), and c) an article on the banking system by Eliot Spitzer (!). Not that those articles are worthless (though I’d venture to say they aren’t worth much), but is that really the best Slate has to offer, worthy of being featured on its front page?
Or take the Daily Beast. It claims to be a “smart, speedy edit of the web” with a “good helping” of original content, seeking to provide us with the best the Internet has to offer. And what’s that? Well, the front page currently features articles about how Obama really should grow a beard, how to dance your way to a Ph.D (apparently, pretending to be a blood cell helps), and a piece explaining how one college student found herself a sugar daddy. (It’s depressing for me to ponder that that one rather stupid piece has probably gotten more hits than every one my posts combined). Then there’s Michael Moore proposing that we nationalize the Big Three, and Christopher Buckley relating his experiences on the Quiet Car during his Amtrak commute. (That article is almost as interesting as his last one, which told a twenty-year-old anecdote about an encounter with Obama;s top spy that wasn’t that interesting when it happened).
Slate and the Daily Beast have their share of readers, but they are nothing compared to the phenomenon that is the Huffington Post. HuffPo gets almost as many readers as Drudge, and has broken into the offline world. It probably represents the future of the Internet—it provides late breaking news and a great deal of opinion. Fairly evaluating the value of the Huffington Post’s liberal content is hard for a conservative to do. But many of the top stories on the Huffington Post are clearly second-rate. The first opinion piece up right now is an article by John Ridley arguing that the Obama’s should provide a black Santa for their kids, which probably isn’t the most pressing issue out there. Another seeks to explain why Al-Qaeda is an imaginary threat; a third post complains that Obama’s election won’t increase media diversity much. These posts aren’t necessarily bad—but if they are the best that HuffPo has to offer, that’s a pretty low standard. I can’t believe that you could ever find an actual newspaper willing to print those three articles. (Not because the content is too hot to handle, simply because these articles aren’t that interesting).
For this post, I only went to more or less respected newspaper-blog combos for examples. Most of the rest of the Internet is much worse—it combines stunning banality with astonishing and wholly inappropriate vitriol. The Huffington Post is the New York Times compared to sites such as the Daily Kos.
Evidently, these sites are giving their readers what they want. But I’d like to think that the Internet is smarter, and it users demand more than odd facts and silly opinion pieces.