I was watching a video on YouTube about a man who was setting up his wilderness cabin. Although he spent most of his time complaining about a snow storm that was sweeping through his area I was most struck by a two second scene where he outlined his options if the internet went down. Perhaps because the electrical power went out when he was making his video, he began to discuss his internet connection.
His Wi-Fi booster runs on batteries apparently, so he can still get internet, and his computer was a laptop, so he could still, as he said, “read comments on YouTube videos.” If the entire system went down, however, he had a backup. He pointed to a plastic bin in which he had perhaps a hundred magazines and told his viewers that they would provide entertainment.
Perhaps because I have hundreds of books in my cabin, and no internet at all, I was struck by the comparison. It occurred to me that, depending on what you do online, magazines are likely a more apt comparison to the internet than books, or even movies. I pictured the magazines I had perused in the past, which admittedly does not add up to very many. I have never been a fan of the thrice-digested material that makes up magazine articles and I am annoyed by some of the aspects of the medium that seems to attract others. I find the images irritating, as they try to interpret the article for me, and the text is broken up by thousands of ads, both small and large. The internet is very similar in terms of a medium.
We have all been attacked by various pop-ups or distracted by flashing ads along the margin of the screen. Even the targeted ads intrude, such as when google tries to tempt me with bear hunting because my nickname is bear and many of my friends address me that way. Magazines are not nearly as targeted, but the articles, the collection of images, are also overrun by garish advertisement, and nearly every page has to be negotiated like the minefield that it is, just as we have to avoid material online. If I am reading a novel, I am subjected to nothing of the sort, although I am tempted in my next book to insert ads that parody the system. Like with magazines, however, it greatly undermines the seriousness of the content.
Perhaps Exburb1a, a YouTuber I follow, feels the same way. For one of the new methods to monetize YouTube videos in these days of adblocker is to insert ads into the video itself. I unfollowed a metal detecting channel because of ads about god, and I am likely to do the same for these other ads I cannot avoid. I sympathize with the YouTuber’s wish to make a living, but I don’t think the best content on YouTube is that of the professional channels. Rather, it is the more marginalized and speciality content that goes viral, or does not.
The articles in magazines are short, rather shallow, and often present rather trite and popular viewpoints. Likewise, those sites which make their living by numbers of clicks and follow-throughs, present material that does not excite too much controversy, and are easy to read and understand. The many pictures that accompany the article, or by times conflict with it, are also easily found online. The online world is increasingly visual and less textual. A picture is worth a thousand dollars, after all, if the viewer is too easily distracted by other information to sit through a thousand word article. In that case, even more information can be packed into the same viewer space by inserting, in the case of online material, videos or animated gifs. Such moving pictures encourage require little in the way of its audience; they need not be literate, or even attentive, for the information to be transferred and the money gained.
Perhaps the hunter preparing his cabin for the fall hunting season is correct. The internet—although originally information posted by academics and accessible through text browsers like Unix’s gopher—has quickly been overtaken once html allowed pictures and video. Now it is a medium that more closely resembles magazines. Meant for the reader or viewer who cannot be bothered to pay too much attention to media, and whose disposable income is suggested by how much money they are willing to pay for a magazine whose offerings are so meagre.
If he is correct, then perhaps I should lay in a supply of magazines at my cabin, for those friends of mine who are so trained by the internet that they cannot read an article over five hundred words and need pictures and glossy ads in order to find the experience satisfying. Of course, I can, like with this blog, make another choice. I can make sure I have even more books, and less pictures, in order to offer an alternative to the flashing banner ads, to promote literacy and perhaps with that, a more profound and slightly more varied way of thinking and interacting with the world.