Like a bombastic carnival pitchman barking on the bally platform about Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Man, our attention is being captured by the alluring headlines and thumbnails that plague the internet. Sensational headlines like: "9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact" or "If This Video Makes You Uncomfortable, Then You Make Me Uncomfortable" are seen topping the charts of popular sites like Upworthy hooking our curiosity; What fact!? What uncomfortable video? I want to know! I. MUST. KNOW. The truth is we live in a world where our time and attention is the most valuable commodity. But as you may not realize, it's not entirely your fault for being distracted.
In the last few years we've seen an insurgence of attention grabbing, time sucking, void and vacuous internet fluff. What has now been coined "Clickbait" or "Sharebait" is being churned out at rapid rates in every corner of the interwebs so much so that parody sites like Upworthy Headline Generator and Clickhole have begun to pop up (which ironically steal yet more of your precious time - go ahead and click... I'll wait).
Being in the business of distraction myself, it's no secret that a large part of what I do is about playing with your attention, not just by working out ways to divert it - but also ways to engage it. Everyone who wants to sell you something wants to first get you to look in their direction. They're exploiting an essential human mechanism we all share - curiosity.
We all have an innate desire to know. Having information wields a type of power that almost certainly stems from our evolutionary survival instincts. Media, marketers, and politicians alike love to make you feel powerless because they want to sell it to you. But how do they do it?
They know that you want to be the most interesting one in the room. They also know that you want to be the first interesting one in the room. You'll read it, share it, and talk about it because you want to be a leader or at the very least, "in the know". By telling your friends you've seen the Dog-Faced Man, makes you that much more interesting...
Research has shown that dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is released into the brain's pleasure centers when we learn new information. Learning something new feels good - and we like feeling good, but addiction often operates in an insatiable cycle. A perfect chemical cocktail for constantly arresting your focus. Making it all the more interesting to find out what "21 things you should never say to an Atheist."
What to do about it?
Don't get me wrong, there are lot's of important "mind-blowing" articles to read out there. So how can you know when you're being swindled? Eventually you'll be able to sniff out a scam worthy headline from a mile away. But more importantly you can arm yourself by knowing the difference between active learning and passive distraction. The next time something piques your interest -think about your time and how much it's worth. Because it's so much easier to fall into an internet black hole when you're not paying attention.
But hey, sometimes it's good to go to Coney Island - just make sure you don't lose all your money. So come one, come all to see Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Man...
**Also, if you must know - Fedor Jeftichew, aka Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Man, suffered from a condition called hypertrichosis which left him with a face full of hair - one that he used to define a legendary career as a sideshow performer.