Because it goes to the beating heart of online media, I found "Manipuated for the Greater Good," a post on Andrew Sullivan's blog about the meteoric rise of the web site Upworthy, utterly fascinating.
For those of you who don't know, the site monitors, culls and publishes hugely popular content about "topics that matter," what Sullivan describes skeptically as "evergreen ideas," nothing but "standards like 'Human rights are a good thing' and 'Children should be taken care of.'" Along the way, Upworthy has honed a writing process that churns out headlines that are both attention-grabbing and widely mimicked.
If, like me, your work involves writing for the online world, chances are you've read some of the hundreds of articles on writing clickworthy headlines. XKCD brilliantly parodies the practice by rewriting several famous - and infamous - 20th Century moments in a manner that will be instantly recognizable to virtually anyone that reads anything on the web.
Since the click-through became the measure of relevance because of its easily monetized relationship to advertising, I've often wondered about the gimmicks used to attract online attention. Some, like Sullivan, are asking serious questions about this development: does sharing really equal engagement? Has interestingness become a substitute for depth? Have we become hooked on distraction?
I don't have good answers to those questions. But I do know that we find what we measure, that interesting things come from people interested in things, that intelligence is marked by an openness to experience, and that meaningful creativity often takes time and always needs a well-stocked attic.
The IdeaFestival recently released its first full-length speaker videos. Called "IdeaFestival Uncut," I think you'll find them worth your time. In the video posted here, ecologist, writer, artist, and expert on adaptation, Rafe Sagarin, discusses adaptability and its power in an unpredictable world at IdeaFestival 2013.
I invite you to be still.