Lizzie Marvelly is a musician, writer and activist, she writes columns for Weekend Herald.

Lizzie Marvelly: What's wrong with clickbait?

Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, the Harry Potter wannabe for legions. Photo / Supplied
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger, the Harry Potter wannabe for legions. Photo / Supplied

It seems to me there are two certainties in life.

The first is that change is inevitable.

The second is that for every technological or societal advancement, there will be some members of an older generation who will take stock of such progress and wonder what the world is coming to.

No matter the era, you can be sure that there will be a new scourge to inflame the passions of those who see themselves as the guardians of the "good old days".

When they invented the wheel, I bet there was some older gentleman who believed (and told everyone who would listen, with increasing feverishness) that it would bring about the end of humanity and anyway, there was nothing wrong with the way things were before.

In years gone by such illustrious inventions as coffee and the telephone were resisted by people who were likely to be worried about the impact the innovations would have on life as they knew it.

Nowadays it's the internet, clickbait and social media that apparently threaten the foundations of society.

The term "clickbait" has gathered numerous meanings along the road to the common vernacular.

It is used to dismiss the views of those one doesn't agree with, at least as often as it is to describe tantalising headlines and teasers, enticing media consumers to click on a link that may not be able to deliver upon its initial promise.

I've certainly been there - gazing at a screen that has just produced the most pathetic excuse of an undercooked piece of content known to humankind and feeling the steam pouring out of my ears.

When it comes to hastily snatched moments spent scrolling through my newsfeed I want to be served tasty morsels, thank you very much, not bathos wearing the perfume of a trumped-up headline.

But I do have to confess that I am a fan of certain kinds of clickbait, like the good, new-fashioned listicle or quiz.

Especially when said quiz tells me utterly useless things about myself deduced in the most unscientific manner.

There's a peculiar joy in finding out for certain that the Harry Potter character you are most like is, as you've long suspected, Hermione.

And if you offer me a link to "Five Times Donald Trump Did [Insert Stupid Thing Here]", I am likely click on it.

Judge all you like, but light entertainment is nothing new. Clickbait is smeared by those who seem to forget that many millennials weren't even born when E! Channel and The Jerry Springer Show first went to air.

Gossip publications with highly salacious headlines have been around for hundreds of years.

In 18th-century Britain, for example, early publishers documented the escapades of London's most infamous mistresses, prostitutes and madams - to the delight of the general population.

The early foundations from which clickbait arose were laid long ago.

Talkback radio was using manufactured outrage and cherry-picked sensationalism long before the advent of social media.

Entertainment media of all stripes were competing to compose the most shocking headlines when Elizabeth Taylor found herself excommunicated over her affair with Richard Burton.

If you think about it, clickbait could well be the illegitimate result of a debauched tryst between a talkback station and a gossip magazine.

That said, clickbait doesn't have to be the enemy.

The whole idea underpinning content designed to make people want to click on it is that it piques interest.

It creates that burning desire to know more.

It does what all good storytellers have been doing for generations - it draws people in.

What's to stop us from using evil clickbait methods for good?

What's wrong with an ingeniously eye-grabbing headline?

Why shouldn't media organisations use cleverly designed, interactive, clickbait-inspired techniques to tell important stories that many young people are otherwise missing out on because they find some traditional delivery methods to be a fantastic cure for insomnia?

I'm one such cured insomniac.

I grew up in a family that watched the news religiously every night - my parents still watch it - but these days, give me a 6pm news bulletin and I will be scrolling through twitter looking for something to save me from the boredom before you can say "Buzzfeed".

Chances are, I would already have seen the news included in the bulletin online that morning.

Or two days before. It's not that I don't want to eat my vegetables, it's that I've been snacking on them all day.

And even if I do find myself craving veges at 6pm, there is nothing on God's green earth that would inspire me to eat boiled carrots.

But I'll quite happily eat them raw with some thoroughly Kiwi reduced cream and onion soup dip.

Word salad aside, the point is that millennials haven't given up on the news.

We still care about what's happening in our world, but we want to be kept informed in different ways.

We arguably watch more documentaries than any generation before us, given the ease of accessibility offered by Netflix and other streaming services.

We have a voracious appetite for media and the ability to be our own gatekeepers.

We would be the perfect news consumers - if only the news producers could find a way to make us pay.

Which likely goes to the heart of many bitter conversations about clickbait.

When the up-and-coming generation has grown up never having to pay for access to news content, clicks become a sought-after commodity, and if you don't give people engaging content, they'll take their clicks elsewhere.

For better or for worse, the good old days are over.

Boring, force-fed media has gone out of fashion, and has been replaced by an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord to suit every media taste.

This is the free market on amphetamines and there are no safeguards in place - only the most creative, innovative and ruthless will survive.

The wheels are in motion, whether we like it or not.

- NZ Herald

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Lizzie Marvelly is a musician, writer and activist, she writes columns for Weekend Herald.

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