I'm grateful to Amy Frkyholm for her thoughtful response to my media column on clickbait. I have a religious autobiography similar to Amy's: raised in a highly emotional evangelical/charismatic church, which I left in young adulthood for high liturgy. My response to liturgical forms of worship was very much the same feeling of relief and freedom within structure that Amy describes so well. I appreciate, and in many ways share, her experience with and insight into the pitfalls of coerced emotionality—in worship, church groups, or online.
I'm not sure, however, that the parallel between clickbait and worship really works.
In her media column for the Century last month, Kathryn Reklis, a theology professor at Fordham University, wrote about the many times a day that social media asks her to watch a video and feel something. “You too will cry after watching this . . . 90 percent of people cry,” the Facebook post tells her. She argues that, while kitschy, these videos contain the power of shared feeling, and shared feeling is a step toward empathy and a further step toward compassion—and so, in essence, a social good. I am not sure I agree.
Several weeks ago, Chipotle founder Steve Ells published a column headlined "Conventional vs. Grass-fed Beef." As you've probably heard, Chipotle prefers the latter—the fast-casual burrito chain has a lotto say about agricultural reform, ethical food, etc. But here the subject is more complicated than the title suggests: Ells was defending Chipotle's decision to stop buying exclusively domestic beef in favor of importing some of it from Australia, where the grass-fed supply is better.
It's a classic food-ethics connundrum: should you go with the higher production standard, or the food produced closer to home? Chipotle chose the former, a perfectly defensible choice if you just have the two.
Even after years living with the blind, guide dogs continue gazing into the dead fish of their owner’s eyes. The dogs are not stupid. They simply see what eyes can’t see behind the bloodless husk of facts. And soon enough, their guileless trust awakens something in the blind: not sight, exactly, but the cognizance that they are seen—which is another kind of seeing—call it faith, blind faith.
A professor of the theory and practice of social media, Clay Shirky, doesn’t let his students use electronic devices in his classes. It’s not just that he can’t compete with the hardware or the software. Studies show that multitasking is bad for the kind of cognitive work required in a classroom. It has a negative effect on memory and recall. One study showed that students who multitasked in class scored lower than those who didn’t. The presence of electronic devices also distracts those who aren’t using them. “I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process,” Shirky said (Washington Post, September 25).