Who’s doing the thinking for you?

WARNING: An old man is about to make the online equivalent of screaming at kids to get off his lawn. OK, you’ve been warned.

Idiocracy is upon us. (I did warn you)

If you’ve never seen the 2006 comedy, you should, because it’s increasingly becoming a documentary. In the movie, two people wake up 500 years in the future to a world in which people speak fragments of comprehensible English, are proudly anti-intellectual, and name themselves after corporate products. It’s a world in which technology does everything for us, and in exchange we’ve lost any interest in how or why things are the way they are.

I’ve heard the “Idiocracy is upon us” lament for several years from all corners of the political and social spectrum. My personal moment came recently when I read the comments to an online news story.

Yes, yes, I know. NEVER look at the comments. Look at the sun, look at an open sewer, look at a festering wound, but NEVER look at the comments, right? Unfortunately my job doesn’t permit me that luxury. I had to look. And when I did, what did I find? A coherent dialogue of differing viewpoints each expressed thoughtfully?

(I’ll pause here until the laughing subsides)

Perhaps a boisterous back and forth of sharp rhetoric? Maybe an angry diatribe of discontent? A profanity-laced tirade? Nope. What I found instead were half a dozen “comments” that came in the form of GIFs, the animated images now so conveniently provided by Facebook. For those unfamiliar (is that even possible?), GIFs are often short clips from popular movies, TV shows, etc that feature the dialogue from that particular scene displayed on the clip itself.

An example is this popular clip from the classic 1976 movie “Network”:


These clips can be hilarious. I have used them often when commenting to Facebook posts from friends.

If you post about needing to relax because your kids driving you crazy, perhaps I’ll leave this gem:


Or if you post something I absolutely love, maybe I’ll leave you this:


So, yeah, you get it. I get it. They’re fun, They’re stupid. They’re stupid fun. And who doesn’t enjoy having stupid fun? But as a comment to a news story? Please.

I like bubble wrap. But do I bring it to a parent-teacher conference? No. (Although I suspect many teachers might actually benefit from a little stress relief dealing with us parents. Let’s face it, we’re the worst.) I enjoy a beer every now and then (and no I will not define “now and then”), but do I pop a cold one when visiting someone in the hospital? Of course not. That’s what the elevator is for (I kid). But you get my point, right? There is a time and a place for everything. (Wow, how did my dad get in here?)

When Facebook first started allowing the instant sharing and commenting on news stories and online articles, most comments seemed to center on the actual information being presented. There might be a general comment for or against what was being said, mixed in with a question or two that perhaps wasn’t covered. But it didn’t take long for the random post to pop up that had seemingly nothing to do with what was being shared. That was soon followed by the comment from someone who had clearly not read the story or article and was commenting on the headline. (You want to make America great again? Let’s take a page from Norway’s public broadcasting network which requires commenters to answer three simple multiple-choice questions about an article before they can post responses to it. But I digress…)

And then there are the trolls, those who take every opportunity to personally attack either the subjects of the story, or those trying to legitimately comment on it. If you post a story about a family losing everything in a house fire, the trolls will extol the stupidity of the now-homeless family and how they had it coming. If you post a story about a local elementary school student creating a program to make playgrounds more inclusive, the trolls will bemoan the “sissification” of society and how when they were kids, everyone just beat the crap out of each other and the world was so much better.

Yes, good times.

But as much as all of that perturbs me, the posting of GIFs as commentary seems all the more ominous. At least Internet trolls, despicable humans that they are, took the time to actually formulate their bile. But when we can’t be bothered to actually articulate our true thoughts and feelings — good or bad — we are heading in a direction that truly chills me to the bone.

If we can’t be bothered to define in any specific way what we really think, it becomes all that much easier for someone to do it for us.


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