Vary your Internet diet

editorial illustrationmenuSugar, alcohol, caffeine, whatever. Everything we eat is fine in moderation, sure, but can that be said of everything we consume? While you may be physically healthy, only eating what’s good for you, what of the rest of what you put in yourself? It can be easily overlooked that people, especially online and active students, consume so much more with the yawning pit that is our attention than we ever could with our bellies. Wouldn’t it be logical to carefully consider what we “ingest”?

As in food courts and strip malls everywhere, people seem more interested in fast food than anything else offered. Tweets are limited to 140-characters, Reddit posts longer than 100 words offer summaries in the form of TL;DR (too long; didn’t read), and most notably, Buzzfeed nearly corners the market on exposure and sharing with their “listicles”.

The site offers an ever-growing archive of portion-controlled list articles, easily consumable with their large photos, simple vocabulary and extremely accurate pandering. The average list uses references that cast a wide net over the demographics likely reading the piece, and yield a high return of views and shares.

What’s more, the site has also branched into long form “journalism”, which summarize the facts and talking points about a given trending world crisis or charitable flavour-of-the-week.

Like the ultimately exaggerated culinary trend of “umami” (in which key components satisfy multiple taste receptors), Buzzfeed has managed to develop the most consumable and sharable content online today.

According to Sonya Song, published on the Nieman Journalism Lab, this success is due to how Buzzfeed’s content satisfies the two main types of thinking we’d do in the situation: fast and slow. Slow is satisfied by the long form articles, which require more active thought to comprehend the information and its context. If it wasn’t obvious, fast thinking is satisfied by the shallow listicles and macro photos.

Furthermore, the site satisfies the other of Song’s proposition, that, “Sharing on social media is charged with emotions, bounded by self-image management and concerns over relationships with others.” That’s where the actual content, and not the way it’s presented, comes into play, as everything on Buzzfeed either references a positive and nostalgic trend or a socially-conscious negative world crisis. Either way, the reader, after sharing,it, shows all their Facebook friends how funny/insightful or socially-aware/active they are. The content plays to emotions and makes people feel better about themselves for reading and sharing it.

This has earned the site a lot of attention and a lot of business. According to alexa.com, Buzzfeed is the 40th most visited site in the US, and 66th in Canada. For comparison, the Huffington Post is 22nd and 50th, respectively.

As with greasy fast food, we like to consume this content because its easy and immediately gratifying. But just as with a meal of trans-fat soaked fried carbs, it needs to occasionally be supplemented with some fibre – and not just the longform Buzzfeed articles, that’s like getting a salad at McDonald’s. You can do better.

To those of you who, like me, would prefer to blame Buzzfeed for its worst articles, don’t forget the efforts they’ve made (primarily under 2012-hired EIC Ben Smith) to offer more substantial reportage; if nothing else, it’s a step in the right direction.

The next time you’re browsing a list of 22 reasons why you should buy your cat a snuggie, consider mixing in a feature story from another site, even if its just as a side.

-Tim Stacey

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