11 November 2021

Insane clickbait? Game over!!!

Youtube has figured out that I like videos about space travel, so they serve me up with lots of suggestions about the latest rockets and their builders.

Many of those videos have calm, interesting titles and descriptions, and the day is not long enough to view even a small portion of those. That's especially true for a video like this, modestly entitled "Crew-3 Mission | Approach and Docking," that takes more than six hours to watch from beginning to end.

Six hours may seem like a long time, but it's a lot shorter than the preceding video, "Crew-3 Mission | Coast and Rendezvous," which clocks in at nine hours. Strangely enough, that title completely omits the dramatic centerpiece of the video -- the launch!

Many of the videos I'm invited to watch are exactly the opposite: the titles are far more dramatic than the content. Often the titles reflect today's equivalents of the overused superlative "extreme" of a couple of decades ago.

These overly dramatic titles and descriptions are sometimes called "clickbait." This word entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1999, longer ago than I realized. (According to the OED, clickbait is "Internet content whose main purpose is to encourage users to follow a link to a web page, esp. where that web page is considered to be of low quality or value.")

In our classes at the New Humanities Institute in Elektrostal, Russia, we occasionally presented our students with carefully curated cutting-edge lists of buzzwords and jargon (and sometimes asked them to predict whether those words and phrases would still be in use in five years), but I don't remember "clickbait" being in those lists. I think one of the last classes we did on this topic included the word "binge-watch" ... in case that helps you deduce what years I'm talking about.

Far from exciting my interest, clickbait titles and descriptions of videos relating to space travel usually repel me. Here are the top five words and phrases practically guaranteed to prevent my click:

game over! (which it never is!)

insane! (meaning, as far as I can tell, audacious)

humiliated! (usually comparing one tech entrepreneur/celebrity's success to another)

this is huge! (probably not)

it's happening! (and so is everything else)

I watched one of these videos, out of sheer curiosity and to maintain a shred of integrity for this screed. (What if it really was "game over" and my protests were just ill-informed?) 

GAME OVER! Elon Musk & Google's INSANE Partnership Will Change EVERYTHING 🔥🔥🔥

The video on the "insane" partnership of Elon Musk and Google was underwhelming. The commentator simply described the Starlink/Google collaboration, which was already public news five months earlier, using video clips that were only vaguely related to the narrative, not a single voice other than his own, and no analysis that could not be found in corporate press releases. Youtube doesn't mind, of course -- the video was preceded by two ads.

More samples from one evening's Youtube browsing:

Post from the past: overusing the word "passion."

For my students in Elektrostal: Weird Al Yankovic's Mission Statement. Cable-news financial language.

But why send people to space in the first place? Sian Proctor is in favor; Marina Koren has her doubts.

Israeli crackdown on organizations advocating for Palestinians: 304 U.S.-based organizations ask for a response from the U.S. secretary of state.

Quaker past: Benjamin Lay. President Hoover. (Thanks to Jim Fussell for the Hoover link.)

Quaker future: Johanna Jackson gathers visions.

Everybody wants to know why Chris Cain sings the blues. (From a tribute to B.B. King at Notodden Blues Festival, Norway.)


BrianY said...

Thanks for the post, Johan. For more on the intersection of space exploration and plutocracy (mostly Elon Musk), you may find this NYT op-ed worthwhile:


(Let me know if it's paywalled.)

I especially enjoyed the bits about Musk's sci-fi influences, including Douglas Adams, who Musk apparently loved but didn't quite get...

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Brian! Judy's getting it for me right now.

Johan Maurer said...

Brian, I've read -- and very much appreciated -- that essay.