Updated: April 5, 2013
This is not a new topic. I have debated the merits of attention prostitution in the form of pseudo-journalism many many times before. We discussed it when we digested the reality TV diarrhea. We talked about this in my writing style article. We had a debate on news very early on, just days after this website was born. And then, there's the whole plethora of awesome philosophy in the Life section, covering anything and everything you could think of.
One thing we only briefly touched in each one of these is the value of shock. And today, I would like to torture your willing minds with yet more glamorous and witty and sagacious insight on the perspective of using shock as cultural impact value. Furthermore, how it features in software, since most people reading this site are actually capable of using their computing devices. So please do follow me. Or ignore. The choice is yours.
Shocking news as an institution
There are many websites that use shock as their primary way of making people look past the title and dive into a drivel-like topic. This is called clickbaiting in the professional jargon. I call this crap. Now, this is a well-known strategy in old media. Nothing special or revolutionary here. The classic 'there may be' court-of-law-proof clause has been used for anything from bubonic plague to 10.5-scale earthquakes. Because nothing is too cheap or trivial for sensationalism.
However, while you expect this from people who bleach their teeth twice a week and drive hybrid SUV as a way of giving back to the nature, you do not really expect your resident geek to fall for the same methods and cheap tricks. And yet they do. Not only do they become victims of this lowliest of propaganda proliferation vectors, they embrace the technique Stockholm syndrome style and begin professing to their own readers. In this tragic way, the shock is perpetuated as the mainstream medium of news delivery.You might be a little confused by this paragraph, as it was written for people with IQ over 9,000, so let me elaborate.
Example 1: Apple + Foxconn
All right, the first example is Apple + Foxconn Technology Group. While I do not endorse Apple products, do not use them or find them worthy of my time, my bullshit klaxons still go off whenever I hear how cruel Apple is to its army of zombies in a faraway land of slave shops. True, there's nothing more endearing than souring up someone's glorious experience with their all-new all-white overpriced gadget, but other than spite, there's no merit to spreading poison about corporate cruelty. If you think about it a little more clearly, the situation is as follows:
People commit suicide all the time; there's nothing special about someone working in some factory doing that. Hundreds of other companies worldwide use Foxconn services with great joy, and yet their participation in what is essentially capitalism is not mentioned. The San Francisco code of work does not apply to Longhua Shenzhen. Working six days a week is fine; most Japanese men do more. The company is actually Taiwanese. You can stick your morals down the toilet bowl if you want to travel the liberal guilt-free highway, because every single product you use is drenched in blood and sweat of the exploited work masses.
Example number 2: Microsoft is spying on you
No, it is not. You do not have to use the SmartScreen Filter. Not every technology out there is designed to widen your back orifice. Some products are actually designed with benevolent goals, like making your surfing experience more pleasant and possibly even safer. Disabling the functionality has never been easier, and you even get a nice fat disclaimer about information and apps data being sent to Microsoft. So relax.
Example 3: Millions are at risk
This is a generic term that can be applied to anything. First, the actual number is designed to imply numerical significance, so you would be awed and whatnot. Second, the 'at risk' statement that stands the Turing test of the judicial system as well as expanding to include the whole world and a tad more. The fact people might be at risk does not necessarily mean they are at risk from whatever is being discussed by the article, however most people are led to believe and link the 'millions at risk' with the chosen topic, like some boring new strand of malware, some new non-issue and alike.
Example 4: UEFI + Linux + signed bootloaders
Another hot potato. The situation is quite simple: UEFI lets you use digital signatures. As an operating system vendor, you can sign your kernel so that the machine supposedly knows it is booting an image that it is supposed to be booting. That's part one.
On the far end of the spectrum, we have Microsoft, who want to use this feature in combination with their latest operating system, Faildows 8, including mandatory signing on ARM architecture. This is called Secure Boot. And this option is fully controllable through the UEFI interface on all x86-based devices. So the only question remaining is, whether you might be locked out from using multiple operating systems on ARM-based devices, which come with Windows 8 preinstalled, and with the UEFI modified to prevent disabling the secure boot. Can you see this long sequence of conditions required for you to have a problem?
I have two machines dual-booting Windows and Linux, both newer desktops with UEFI. No issues. End of story. So the only possible problem there could be is if you choose to try to install additional operating systems on tablets that come with Windows 8. My question is, why would you want to do that? If you want a Linux-based tablet, then go for one of the Android-based devices, the market is flooded with them. There's really no reason why you should want or need to do something like this other than sheer ego. And finally, Microsoft is not the devil in this case. You may want it to be, and there are situations when it is, but with UEFI, they are merely using the technology to make their product better. That is all. Besides, a kernel-signing solution is in the works.
Call to action
Enough examples. Now, the question is, what do you do when you encounter a shock item? How do you handle the information? My suggestion is stop visiting the said websites right then right there and move elsewhere. There are lots of quality sites that are not trying to peddle feces by the pound.
You might be tempted to engage in conversation or leave an angry comment refuting the claims presented in the article. Be tempted not. This is exactly the intention the author had in mind when they posted their piece. Now, normally, this kind of journalism does not constitute as trolling, but it is such in every way and form. Ignoring inflammatory, baseless rants is the best thing you can do.
Like I said, we have discussed this before, but never so eloquently. And then, we've had a new, fresh, relevant share of latest examples that illustrate my point. I believe that shock is becoming of a trend in delivering content, which is somewhat alarming. Not in the sense you need to care, but the fact you will have to hunt a little harder to find useful, valuable information. Moreover, the use of shock has another downside. The shock must grow. So every new article will have to be that much shocking, because once you get used to heightened levels of drama, they will no longer be sensational and interesting. So you end with shock that has to be best itself. And the content becomes secondary.
Not all is lost. If you are even borderline smart, you will be able to sniff out the moronic journalism and toss it aside, cleansing the tubes. The ultimate goal is to better the quality of the Internet, and this can only be done by pruning the regressive bits. And as in life, evolution takes place by ignoring the bad parts. So if you seek to enjoy your online experience more, your first step to enlightenment is to outcast the dreck, doubly so if the content is related to computers. And if anyone equates PC with your operating system, shift + delete their site from your browsing history, too. Case closed.