Look at your Medium front page. Or Facebook stories. Or Twitter. Or YouTube. Or even a “serious”, traditional newspaper. How many “unpopular hot takes” do you see? Headlines that are so “controversial” or downright outrageous that they make you angry, or anxious, or filled with contempt enough to click on them? I bet with you there is at least one.
Unpopular hot takes are, despite their name, outrageously popular. Of course they are: the more outrageous the claim, the more clicks it gets: from supporters to leave a fist bump, but even more so, from opponents to write a scathing commentary. Everyone is in it for the clicks — above all, the algorithms that serve you the articles. The more clicks, views and comments something gets, the more “interesting” it is deemed by the algorithm, the higher its chance to end up on a front page — of your Twitter feed, YouTube, and, yes, Medium.
The algorithms, and the posters, are polarizing and dividing, but you, dear reader, is what makes them work. It is almost as if you want to be polarized. Maybe it is the cabin-fever, the inaction of being locked up in your home, the feeling of helplessness in the face of a pandemic that leaves you wanting to do something, anything. You want to be angry at something. At the left. At the right. At injustice. At “justice warriors”. At the middle who doesn’t want to participate in the brawl.
Whatever the reason — it makes you vulnerable. You let yourself be exploited by those who you agree with, and much worse, by those who you oppose. Your clicks and outraged comments are what makes their articles drift up in the algorithm feed, makes them visible for those who, like you, want to be swayed one way or another.
I am not above this. I commented on some outrageously stupid fishing-for-clicks tweets with everyone else, specifically because of how objectively stupid they were. Some of those stupid tweets got whole articles written about them next day, that ended up in my Google feed because of how outrageously stupid they are. I got angry again, and hovering my finger over the headline I finally started thinking.
We are wasting our times and our emotional energy in our feeds — aptly named that because they spoon-feed us somebody else’s stale “hot” takes. The feeds are the direct replacement for the traditional media — TV, Radio, Newspapers, a one-way consumption street with the means to comment not meant for people to participate, but only as a means to judge its monetary value, to optimize and personalize it for most profit: for the site owner to make most profit off you, personally. We are giving our attention, our emotions, our anger — and in the end, our money — to somebody else, promoting somebody else’s agenda. Does it make us happy?
I know the answer for me is a “no”. At the end of the day, it leaves me tired, angry, disappointed about all the time wasted, which I could have used to do something — anything — else. Something more important, more interesting — and I know I have plenty of those things to do.
Yes, it is the time of polarity, the time of sword and axe, the time of “f*ck you” being shouted from both sides across the isle. But maybe we should instead be asking ourselves, “why is there even an isle, and who does it serve?”
Can’t we all just agree that we need to treat each other the way we, ourselves, want to be treated; The way we want our mothers, or sisters and our daughters be treated if they were in the same position — whether we are rich or poor, sick or healthy, whichever language we speak, and whatever country we come from? Can’t we agree that if we can save people from dying by wearing a piece of cloth in front of our face, that maybe this is not too much to ask? That police should be protecting us and not beating us up or killing us? (Isn’t it the definition of their damn job?) Why are any of those even controversial? Why is the right to be treated in a hospital without being in debt for the rest of your life — possible even in developing countries like Thailand — controversial (do people actually want to be surrounded by sick people wherever they go)? Or the right to be with any consenting adult you want? I mean, do you want somebody else to decide for you who you can sleep with? Why is any of this considered political? Why do you care who somebody else sleeps with, or what their gender at birth was? Or how much money somebody has, as long as they are acting legally and morally? Or what pictures they post on Instagram?
We are all sooo upset at sites like Facebook, or Twitter Trolls like Donald Trump, and, occasionally, Elon Musk, but it is us who make them what they are. If we just stopped clicking on their shitposts, on stuff that is really none of our business, on stuff that should not be controversial; if, instead, we acted on our urge to act out in the real world — by voting, by actually contacting people who can make things happen that we need to happen, and, yes, sometimes by demonstrating because nothing else helps — so many “unpopular opinion” pieces would fall, unseen, by the roadside, so many “controversial” agencies would go out of business. So much more actual quality content would rise to the top. Things that are actually interesting, things that bring us forward as humanity, things that we can actually — once the pandemic is over — discuss, down in the isle, with the favorite drink of our choosing.
And meanwhile, I am unsubscribing from a number of people and a number of sites, possibly including this one, because “unpopular” noise that makes me angry has now far outpaced useful information.
Stay safe out there. And wear a f*cking mask.