A few years ago, nobody used the expression ‘going viral’. The snowball of tweets, hashtags and Facebook posts that accompanied a seemingly trivial, throwaway remark sends hundreds of thousands of people into a frenzy of posts and reposts, as if by identification, they have some claim of ownership over a blindingly original new idea. The very short half-life possessed by such events is testament to their overall value – on the very few occasions when something I have written has been picked up, the thousand or so ‘shares’ took less than an hour to generate, thereafter, the contents were as exciting as a dictionary. Advertisers and media people have made vast sums convincing us that the intrinsic value of a thing is determined by its popularity and hence desirability, not by any real worth it may have.
The trick to writing on the Internet in such a way as to generate profit is to be as extreme as possible; the Net consigns to an unread junk pile of massive proportions anything which has subtlety, nuance, or even careful thought. Laodicean greyness or admitting to ‘not quite knowing’ on the Internet is as suicidal as doing so in media politics. Certainty and bombast wins followers, votes and money. This is the age of trending and ‘hot takes’, where people must, it would seem, have to have an opinion on every issue that trickles like untreated sewage down the media pipeline, fallacies are easy crevasses over whose edges we can slide: straw men make us sound innovative; ad hoc and ad hominem attacks make us sound as if we alone hold the moral high ground; quick bandwagon or slippery slope arguments make us appear prophetic when in fact we’re just repeating the same things people have always been saying.
There’s a new movie hitting the screens shortly. It has a number and a colour in its title, and, no, I have no particular interest in seeing it. The book on which it was based was gaudily gauche and after a few pages I began to feel a darkly coloured Mills and Boon inversion about its contents. It would seem to have little moral compass or cultural depth, so along with the billion other paragraphs consigned hourly to the trash can, this too will follow, at least for me. This isn’t to suggest that I am too intellectually haughty or disdainful of weak prose since most of what we all read, even this, falls into that category. I have simply made an existential choice that the literary equivalent of YouTube’s cats on skateboards isn’t worth my time; Anastasia Steele is no Anna Karenina. Additionally, the ‘hot take’ of hastily threaded, poorly thought through opinion on it makes up enough Internet flotsam to tickle the most world-weary ears. But, only briefly. An opinion, if it’s worth having, is often forged over time, crystallising with infinite slowness, forming its edges of perfection in the heat and pressure of challenge and disagreement and consequently sufficiently armoured to defend itself in whatever intellectual battle it might find itself drawn into.