What a title eh? Did you click it to read on and feel angry, or did you click it because well I brought you here with the headline alone and generally wanted to see what this entry would be about?
Yes the title is clickbait, pure and simple. And really its done as a sort of devils advocate. That is the whole message of this entry will be about two things that seem like they aren’t related, but are!
Real title? Reading Comprehension and Outrage Culture: The Black Mirror of Social Media.
First off, what is reading comprehension? Well if you’re reading this right now and trying to understand the main point and supporting details, congrats you are grasping the basic understanding of reading comprehension! It is one thing to be able to read period, and it is a fundamental of understanding anything, from information to entertainment. But I digress from wasting kilobytes of text about the importance of reading.
Reading comprehension is fundamental to developing a deeper understanding of the text that one is reading, whether its a blog, a news article, a technical manual, a textbook, or enjoying literature. This goes beyond just merely summarizing the plot of Moby Dick and how the whale is a metaphor for 19th century America in a mad-dash rush for your disconcerted English teacher. It means thinking of what the author is trying to portray, how they are using their details to make a point and/or tell a story, what other connections you could make to the passage, and then adding in your input using all of the above. (And yes, that silly English teacher example has all the elements of reading comprehension!)
Outrage and Reading Comprehension
But I would like to draw your attention again, dear reader, to the last paragraph, specifically where I listed the types of literature. I specifically excluded one type of literature and that would be social media itself, specifically Facebook and Twitter as these two formats are text-heavy and this itself is where outrage culture manifests itself strongly. This is because in this post I want to talk about the effects of too much social media sharing on our ability to comprehend and contextualize what we read. This phenomenon is not just limited to social media, but even the Internet at large.
Reading comprehension takes time and effort, and in this day where we can access an infinite amount of information from our pockets it seems we are loosing focus of this fundamental skill. Part of it is because there is so much information out there that we can’t process it all at once and this can literally overwhelm our brains to the point of mental exhaustion. But the other reason for a lack of reading comprehension stems from outrage culture.
Outrage itself is nothing new, it is after all related to anger. And to make it clear, there is a world of difference between mere outrage and righteous indignation which critics of the term “outrage culture” tend to mix the two togetherand when writing and even acting upon social justice. Or if you prefer, outrage is merely getting upset about some jerk shouting a homophobic slur,and then venting about it. Fine enough to vent frustrations, especially about a jerk. I’m not here to tone police about people being pissed off. But if you wallow in that outrage and then actively seek outrage, you are giving your brain that dopamine kick it so craves and then you are in a negative state of mind to the point where apathy sets in. That is outrage culture.
Righteous indignation would be getting back at a bully, calling out a person of power and privilege for injustices, protesting against injustice, voting for a politician or law that would end the lingering systematic injustices persistent in our government. However in this day and age we conflate outrage culture and righteous indignation and it is because outrage culture itself blinds us from any sort of rational thought, reading between the lines, and most importantly discerning any actual hidden meaning and messages in an article we share. (Clickbait articles and other forms of manipulative articles and speeches exploit this to a scary new degree.)
Outrage Culture and Our Brains
Now what does outrage culture have to do with reading comprehension? I want you to think of a time when you were expected or at the very least, desired to read something and you happened to have been in a bad mood. Perhaps this bad mood was triggered by a rude comment you heard online or a rude comment you overheard in the streets. How hard was it to concentrate on what the author was trying to say? If this particular reading was for a class, did you give up on it and read it at another time? In fact it doesn’t even have to apply to reading, it can apply to any task that uses executive functioning skills such as reasoning, problem-solving, and decision making. It doesn’t even matter if you were feeling better, the residual anger is there and this takes a toll on the the pre-frontal cortex, that little part of the brain that helps you make decisions.
Therefore the effects of outrage on the brain are decisively negative, in terms of being able to make executive decisions. Which in turn greatly affect how we perceive an article, especially if this article in particular is written to be a case for righteous indignation. Outrage culture is the concept of the the Two Minutes of Hate from George Orwells 1984 brought onto social media, with a mix of Aldous Huxley’s concept of control by distraction via Brave New World thrown in for good measure. And no, this isn’t some blabbering conspiracy theory that proves the government really is controlling the masses, (although politicians definitely exploit outrage all the time, witness Trumps ascension into the White House and his continual paranoid ramblings) Rather outrage culture stems from the brains predisposition to anger and fear, and the media itself in its continual scramble for revenue grabbing. In other words, outrage culture is a creation of our own doing and social media greatly exacerbates the effects of it.
If you were reading this with the expectation of making social media the boogeyman, I hate to disappoint. Because social media is not to blame here anymore than the media is, for the two are amoral entities entirely controlled by viewership, which is controlled by human beings. There is a mind full of emotions and reasoning working in harmony behind that screen who wrote that article that enraged you, and its behind the author too. With outrage articles, the intent can either be pure outrage, misplaced righteous indignation, profit, or in some cases (especially in the case of political writing) pure control and power. Rather this blog post is more so bringing awareness on the dangers of too much outrage and how it can lead us to make serious erroneous judgement in reading comprehension. Anger is an addiction and holding onto it will not help you, dear reader. Sometimes it helps to put down the phone and take a breather. Do that the next time you click on an article that makes you angry, then read it again to fully comprehend the meaning when your mind has had time to relax. You’ll be able to then tell if you’ll being played the fool or just reading a mad persons innate ramblings.