6 Things Everyone Wants To Share And Nobody Wants To Read
A lot of people talk about how "interconnected" the Internet has made us, which is in some ways true and in some ways a lot of horseshit. People who talk about how blogs and Twitter have made it possible for a dude in Seattle to read about what some guy in New York had for breakfast don't seem to realize that no one cares what the guy in New York had for breakfast.
But it was a bagel, if you were wondering.
Prior to the Internet, though, the guy in New York would have had to share that information over the phone or around the water cooler, and he would have been told by whoever he was sharing it with that they didn't care. At some point it would have dawned on him that no one gave a shit. The Internet allows him to tweet or blog it, and indulge the illusion that all of his followers are reading about his bagel choice and are vitally interested in it.
You can sleep easy now that you know it was a cinnamon raisin bagel.
While we might look down on that narcissistic New Yorker, most of us have fallen victim to the same illusion one way or another. Like if you've ever expected people to read:
The big thing about Twitter, and blogs before it, was that it was supposed to "democratize" content generation. In "old media," there was a clique at the top of the pyramid -- celebrities, corporations, etc. -- that dominated all the content, and you had to get your news and entertainment from either them or not at all.
"You'll remember the Maine the way William Randolph Hearst wants you to remember the Maine!"
With Twitter, so the story went, anybody could become an Internet celebrity by coming up with humorous or insightful tweets, and gather millions of followers, bypassing the "media machine." So we took away the power of the restrictive media overlords forcing people to only pay attention to celebrities, and let the public choose who they wanted to listen to. Of course, fully wielding the freedom of choice to listen to any individual or organization they wanted to, the public chose to pay attention to celebrities.
And the celebrities, of course, are mostly listening to each other. So sure, now Joe Schmoe has the infrastructure to get his message out to the whole world cheaply and quickly, and the whole world does not give two owl's droppings.
If you think that having 248 followers means that 248 people (or almost 248 people) must be reading everything you say, I have bad news for you. A Pew survey showed that almost half of all Twitter users basically don't read a single thing anyone else says (checking "every few weeks" or even less). Twenty-one percent literally never read anyone else's tweets.
Even out of the 36 percent that checks at least once a day, that doesn't mean they're reading your tweets when they check. One blogger ran some analysis on his Twitter followers and found that they followed, on average, 2,778 accounts apiece, and unless they have very slow jobs, are clearly not reading most of those tweets.
And even if they did have that much free time, they'd probably use it to surf for porn.
For some people, following a person on Twitter seems to be basically their version of clicking a "Like" button on Facebook or putting a bumper sticker of that person on their car ... except the bumper sticker requires more commitment.
Which is not always a good thing.
Even though some part of us must have known that nobody wanted to read our "I just went to the bathroom" updates, the fact that there's no real feedback on who is or isn't reading (unless you go looking for it) means it's easy to keep the illusion alive. So we keep going with our attempts at witty bon mots and pocket philosophy, thinking we're participating in the great Internet dialogue when we are, most likely, muttering to ourselves like a homeless person.
Your Online Quiz Results
Which Harry Potter character are you? Which superhero are you? How girly are you? How evil are you? You name the useless question and there will be an online quiz to help you find the answer, often giving you your test results as a descriptive paragraph and icon-like graphic to post elsewhere and show people.
Do you know who is interested in those test results? You.
Sure, some of the quizzes can be really fun for you to see how well the description matches or doesn't match your personality, or what silly character it identifies you as, but it's infinitely less interesting to Internet strangers. Say there is a guy who posts as dragoninja16 who you only remember as a guy who posted a funny lolcat image once. How interested would you be in finding out that he most resembles Professor McGonagall, even though he was totally expecting to get Hagrid?
Yet there are massive threads in almost every forum on the Internet with pages and pages of people posting their results from some online quiz, often with nothing other than the quiz-provided graphic and paragraph, and since quiz-makers usually only make less than 10 possible answers, everything after the first page is a repeat. People are literally just posting the same 10 pictures and paragraphs over and over again.
It's a fair bet nobody is reading all the other replies, yet inexplicably, everyone believes that all the other posters want to see theirs. There is no way you have a genuine interest in the three people before you being 25 percent, 56 percent and 38 percent evil, yet you know everyone is waiting on pins and needles to see that you are 42 percent evil, and that it is vital enough for you to make a second post clarifying that you think one of the questions was worded badly and it should have been 44 percent.
Almost every time, "Guys, I found this quiz, why don't you take it and post your quiz results," really means, "I took this quiz and I want you to see my quiz results, and to avoid sounding like a self-centered douche, I'm going to be polite and pretend to be interested in yours."
Related: On Grooming And Power Imbalances
Your Chat Logs
One thing almost everyone is positive that the world at large will be interested in seems to be chatlogs. There was a point in time you could not swing a virtual dead cat around in a forum without hitting a "Post your Omegle/Chatroulette chatlogs here" thread.
Like Schrodinger's cat or something.
Those were programs that would hook you up with a random chat partner, who would then try to show you their penis. If no penises were being shown, the next likely option was that one person would try to "out-weird" the other one by acting in a manner that a high schooler would come up with if asked to evoke the words "random" and "crazy."
They would then interpret any reaction from the other person as that person being totally flustered and freaked out by such wacky, unprecedented randomness, and post their amazing and unique adventure in a thread with a ton of other nearly identical adventures.
It would usually go something like this:
Along the same lines, people often take chatlogs of IM or IRC conversations with friends, and post them on a public forum full of people who don't know those friends, expecting them to find it hilarious. It's probably even worse than a stranger trolling chats because it's basically the same thing in stereo.
To be fair, that's what all good friends do; make little inside jokes that crack each other up and only really mean something between you. It's the glue that bonds friends closer together, which also means it's completely meaningless and boring tripe to anyone outside of that circle.
It's like excessive public displays of affection between couples. When you post what a wacky conversation you and Jesse had the other night, you are basically sticking your tongue down his throat and groping his ass in front of an entire forum. It's healthy that you love each other so much but, you know, let's not see all of that.
This might sound a little ironic for Cracked, but I'm talking about the, "list all the things on your desk right now," or "list all the CDs you have on your shelf." I guess I'm dating myself with that one. You kids these days are all about sharing your playlists and your mp3s.
Through the generations, though, one thing has remained constant -- nobody wants to see them. There's no written record of it but I'm pretty sure Victorians often found themselves rescinding ball invitations to people who would constantly list their phonograph collections in polite conversation.
"... and Electric Light Quadrille and Claire de Lune ..."
Even in "10 favorite games" threads, most people are just skimming your list to see if you have any games they like and skipping the rest. You might think this is the perfect place to turn people on to your favorite obscure Japanese game that's never been translated to English and you had to play with a phrasebook in one hand and a controller in the other (but the story was JUST AMAZING). But here's what other people are going to see:
On the other hand, there might be some other random person out there who also loves Radiant Potato Warrior IV or whatever, and you might find a new friend to be sad with together, so there's that.
There is a threshold for how interesting the average stranger will find your account of "what Stephanie did" or this crazy drama you got into in your WoW guild. And this threshold is basically felony level behavior.
Basically, it should look something like this.
Did Stephanie gut a man? Did someone go to jail as a result of your guild catfight? No? Then your story is probably absolutely fascinating to people who know Stephanie or your guild, and nobody else. The fact that she totally called you a "ho bag" or that you both liked the same guy and sent him sexy pictures is not going to get me to look up from my newspaper, even if I am reading an article about corporate earnings. It might even make that article look more interesting.
Suddenly interesting somehow.
Interpersonal conflicts are always absolutely captivating to the people involved in them and your own breakups and rejections in particular feel like they're at a level of life-or-death importance. And they should be really important ... to you. That's why we have the whole concept of a family unit, or a circle of friends, so there can be like 2 to 10 people just as vitally interested in your important, but not unusual, relationship problems as you are.
"No! He didn't!"
The world is full of millions of family units, each one going through their own drama, most of them really similar except for a few details. So when you tell someone what's going on with your group, and it isn't amazingly bizarre or criminal, chances are they've seen the same thing in their group at some point in their lives, and their homegrown incident will be much more interesting to them because it happened to their homies.
Just think about it. People yell at each other and throw things at each other in relationships all the time, and never get a news story written about them. Lorena Bobbitt only hit the news because she cut a penis off.
Here is a safe-for-work reproduction of that event.
Next time you think you have a "great story" that will make strangers gasp at how crazy your friends are, ask yourself if it's penis-cutting good, because that's what we're talking about here.
As the title of the column implies, offering to tell someone about your cats is a formidable and effective threat.
It's easy for many people who own cats to observe how completely insane and mentally deficient their cats are and mistake that for a unique and interesting observation that will fascinate others. The truth is that all cats are insane. Every single one.
I mean, just look at them.
Sure, my cat is apparently autistic, while other people's cats seem to suffer from OCD or paranoid schizophrenia, but the exact diagnosis doesn't matter. The point is that, unless your cat can talk, or pass through walls, or shapeshift into human form, it's probably not much weirder than anyone else's cat.
Or unless it's a creepy talking puppet.
And thanks to the Internet, I'm afraid pretty much everyone is familiar with all the top insane cat behaviors, so much so that they are mostly inventing fictional ones now.
Cats cannot, in fact, play the piano.
Sometimes people will ask you -- maybe personally, or maybe ask people generally in a forum thread -- to talk about your cats. This might give you the impression that people out there are interested in hearing about your cats.
About 90 percent of the time, if you respond to this request, you are going to get a story in return about that person's cat or cats. I can't read minds so I'm not going to say they were just asking you to get an opening to talk about their cat -- but, hey, you draw your own conclusions.
Now here are some pictures of my cats.
And since you were clearly so interested in all of that (I didn't hear anyone say they weren't), one more.
For those of you not well-versed in cat behavior, check out 6 Adorable Cat Behaviors With Shockingly Evil Explanations. And learn more about Christina's cat in 6 Reasons Kittens Suck (Learned While Raising Them).