Clickbait

The Guelph Mercury is the latest newspaper to close shop here in Ontario and in Canada.

The newspaper industry is not what it used to be primarily because advertising dollars have moved elsewhere to other mediums.  The core reason being that fewer and fewer people read newspapers, the kind you can hold in your hands while sitting on the throne, and advertisers want to spend their money where eyeballs will see them.

Sure, the argument is that people are now getting their information from other mediums; mobile devices, television et al. so it’s not necessarily the death of journalism we’re witnessing but a messy transformation to a modern and more accessible format.  OK great, but let’s be honest, what people digest on line is not the same as having that good old newspaper in front of you.

Ever try and read an article online?  Better avoid looking to the sidebar where there’s teasers for more salacious articles about celebrity penile enhancements or quick ways to lose weight.  Don’t click on hyperlinks to other articles that show up mid-piece, you’ll just end up reading half of that article until you get to the next hyperlink in that article, or worse you’ll have a queue of new articles in your shortcut bar that will tempt you to switch to them before you’ve finished the first article.  And what articles do you read online?  If something (like this blog post) is more than a thousand words, do you invest the time and attention, or are you more likely to find something shorter and more stimulating?

Nicholas Carr wrote about this in his excellent book “The Shallows”.  Despite having access to more information than any other generation before us, we are actually less knowledgeable and less able to process and understand that information because of the medium that it’s being delivered in; the internet.  The internet is a great tool and one that has created significant gains in wealth and productivity for us all, but it’s also one increasingly built around the premise of satisfying desires for instant gratification and instant stimulation.  That article  you’re reading isn’t getting your juices going?  Just click on another article.  Getting bored slugging through some dense information?  Surf away from that page.   Oh, why would I read about some arcane pension plan reform when there’s an article about a Big Brother contestant being caught in a home porn video advertised next to the text I’m reading?

How many of us are guilty of “doing the wheel” where we have these 6 or 7 websites that we regularly visit: Facebook, Twitter et al and rather than read a book, a newspaper, actually endure some boredom, we just surf from one of these sites to the next to the next and very often back to the first site we visited, just searching for some stimulating information that satisfies are need for a hit of dopamine to the brain.

So, it’s right to lament the loss of these newspapers.  We are definitely losing something and the argument can be made that we’re increasingly becoming not necessarily a low information society, but a low quality information society where people know more about celebrity boob jobs than what your government is up to.  It certainly is one way to explain how governments, like the Ontario Liberals, can be corrupt and blatant about it, and yet operate with confidence that come election time, no one will care.  Because no one will really know.

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