You'll never believe the top 11 reasons why what happened next will shock you. Dentists hate him.
Clickbait is like the digital version of cocaine. It’s addictive yet we all know it's for us. We click because we get a hit of dopamine in anticipation. The anticipation of content that will improve our life or merely titillate us. It doesn't matter. We can't resist. And we keep clicking.
But whether we realize it or not, and as much as we might fight it, internet websites manipulate us like laboratory rats in an experiment. The data nerds at BuzzFeed and Facebook know what we like and they feed it to us.
Intriguing headlines are all well and good – I love reading good headlines. But there’s a difference between headlines that offer a teaser of things to come and clickbait headlines that lead to nothing worthwhile at all.
Let me tell you a story
I’m interested in standing desks. I believe in these things enough that I started a standing desk business. I believe they offer physical and mental health benefits that far outweigh the expense. What I know is that they work for me. I find it hard to work for long periods of time without one. (Part of the reason I’m reluctant to go back to a traditional office is that I’m afraid I won’t be able to use a standing desk).
Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is because of my incredulity, outrage even, at an article by the Huffington Post recently. Okay, maybe outrage is too strong. Incredulity at the Huff Post. Yeah, scratch that too. In fact, I’ll scale it back to apathy. The article in question is this one.
This piece of ‘journalism’ by the Post’s Healthy Living editor is a textbook example (I can only imagine) from journalism school on how to be contrary and say nothing at the same time. According to the author, the argument against standing desks is based on the lack of evidence of ‘treadmill’ desk’s health benefits and that standing alone won’t combat the effects of sitting.
The data nerds at BuzzFeed and Facebook know what we like and they feed it to us
The tired old argument that standing desks only burn an apple’s worth of calories every week or whatever that figure is really doesn’t count as an argument anymore. We’ve heard it, and beating on a supposed selling point that isn’t really a selling point just shows how little research went into this article. It looks like standing desks users appear to stand less outside of work. So that’s obviously a flaw in the standing desk then.
The (very) short-term study findings report that ‘It remains unclear if standing can repair the harms of sitting because there is hardly any extra energy expenditure’. I’ll explain, the results are either unclear or standing desks are pointless because energy expenditure isn’t any greater for someone standing than sitting. People are using standing desks as excuses to be lazy outside of work and this somehow proves the ineffectiveness of standing desks. It’s like saying that because people eat crap for dinner, eating healthy food for lunch and breakfast is not an effective way of following a good diet.
I’ll end my disparaging of the original study and get back to disparaging the article. From bad to worse, as it were.
Unfortunately, articles like these can be harmful. People can be very lazy. Sitting is easier than standing. Reading headlines is easier than reading an entire article. Many people that would benefit from the standing will read the headline and use it as a way of qualifying their belief that their back problems, sore necks, or lack of energy and focus at work can’t be helped. After all, these desks don’t work. The Huff Post said so. Well, no point wasting my money. I’ll continue in the foetal position till they carry me out of here!
I’m not writing this to defend standing desks. People that use them understand why they work. That’s all there is to it. If you’re using them to lose weight then you really should examine your lifestyle. Rather I’m trying to draw attention to how we are manipulated by click-bait into reading 1000-word articles riddled with inconclusive evidence. These journalists couldn't research their way out of a paper bag but they understand how to use one of the oldest of tricks of journalism, controversy.
Trends usually receive positive media coverage for a time before the tide turns as people read these articles less. Next comes the wave of abuse and take-downs by the same journalists that penned ‘Top 10 benefits of’ type articles on the subject they are now taking apart. There’s no doubt some talent in deciding when the moment of positive criticism has passed and it’s time to go in for the kill. The first journalist to go against the tide will receive kudos if they’ve timed it right. Nobody wants to be the trend-basher right at the start of a trend. But once people are accustomed to hearing about something any negative comments will trigger the “oh-really?” synapse in the brain.
I used to wonder why it is that when articles written by people who learned how to write from Facebook and text messaging apps receive a torrent of negative comments, their editors don’t pull the article. Or even write a response. Isn’t that the point of online content? But then I got it. Journalism (in the digital age) isn’t about insightful articles, it’s about clicks. Get clicks, even if people are turned off. If people stop reading your publication it doesn’t matter as long as a new bunch of click-hungry internet zombies are ready to read your headlines. Then you can sell to advertisers and everyone’s happy.
I understand that people need to write to make a living. And we can’t live in a perfect world. I guess I should learn to stop clicking on these headlines. Unfortunately, the internet knows what I am interested in and presents me with keyword-targeted stuff daily. The marketing reach of publications like the Huff Post and BuzzFeed is greater than that of publications written by people that care about writing. I’m optimistic that the tide will change and real investigative articles win out.