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5 things you must do to quit being such a douche
social media and writer laziness are killing quality content
by joe procopio (@jproco)
8.1.11
writing

I know. You see a title like that and there's a little part of you, no matter how savvy you are, that thinks: "Jeezus, I'd better read that and make sure I'm not doing and/or won't do one of those potential things. And thank God somebody distilled it down to five, so I can check them off my list quickly, before I have another chance to exhibit any douchiness in public."

Or some variation of that.

I'm also pretty confident that you'll forgive me for that ruse of a title. First of all, you ought to know me by now, after having tricked you into reading such classics as "Intrepid Media Got Me Laid!" and "You Suck." But also, this is definitely not the first time you've seen a title like that on the internets, probably not the first time today.

It's an ugly trend that has sprung up mainly because we've all gotten too lazy to read How to Win Friends & Influence People but we'll take a glance at 10 Ways To Tell If Your Boss Hates You.

Here's the formula:

X things Y must do to Z

Where:

X is a number, usually an Arabic numeral; i.e. "5"

Look, I'm a huge fan of dumbing things down. How much more peaceful would this world be if Moses came down from the mountain with 10 Things That Will Piss God Off or every year the IRS put out 1 Simple Calculation All Americans Should Make by April 15th?

But it's getting out of hand. The numbers in more recent titles are arbitrary, neither all-inclusive nor particularly meaningful.

Y is a categorization of people like "parents," "Democrats," "Belgians," or in certain cases a celebrity, like "Charlie Sheen."

And by the way, when you see celebrity content presented in that format, i.e. Five Things You Need to Know About Justin Bieber, understand that when you click on that link, an agent is contractually obligated to slap an orphan.

Z is the scare tactic. It's something you must do to achieve something you really want to do, like get rich, accomplish a life-goal, or not die.

It's usually blended with whatever happens to be trending on Twitter.

Sometimes, however, Z is the just plain condescending "you need to know," attached to some sort of unit shifter. This is ultimately the work of a marketing hack, believing they've just invented the public-relations equivalent of fire, trying to throw you off the one thing that you should know about whatever project (Green Lantern), product (Nissan Leaf), or law (healthcare reform) they're not-so-transparently pimping, that it's terrible.

This formulaic approach to content (and it's usually just reserved for digital content, now that paper content has been totally relegated to vampire novels and How to Use Computers or Smartphones or iPads or e-Readers or Digital Watches for Dummies) is either the mark of a writer having totally figured out search engine optimization or it's just straight-up laziness.

Either way, said writer has now abandoned any effort at a well-researched and expertly collected fact-based story and gone for the lowest common X+Y+Z denominator.

When you see a title like this, it usually means the writer is going to give you advice (now Y = "you." As in you, the person reading this).

3 Things You Must Do to Prevent Mobile Phone Face Cancer

4 Reasons Why Your Breath Smells

5 Signs That Your Mailman Will Stab You Tomorrow Morning

What's worse is even when the titles are legitimate, the content is more often than not... stupid.

I'll give an example. I recently came across a social message with a link that purported to contain 3 Ways To Destroy Your Personal Brand. Since I'm into that sort of thing from the business standpoint and the artistic standpoint and even the personal standpoint, I thought it was worth a read, regardless of the skepticism I immediately felt from the cookie-cutter title.

The article basically broke down like this:

3 Ways to Destroy Your Personal Brand

1) Doing Something Scandalous
2) Lying
3) Being a Dick

Not that it was funny or ironic, mind you. Any chuckle you just got had to do with my paraphrasing. The article itself was so vanilla, I half expected bullet point two to open with:

"Lying is when you tell one or more people that something happened when it didn't actually happen, in an effort to gain a personal advantage."

Yes. Taking up lying as a career move will destroy your personal brand, but so will the following:

4) Unapologetic Public Racism
5) Unapologetic Public Nudity
6) Treason
7) Kicking a Baby and/or Kitten
8) Coveting Your Neighbor's Oxen
9) Genocide
10) The Smurfs

I've already goofed it because at least three of those would be hysterical.

But it does take the point home. In order to call yourself a writer, your content, especially in the gravitas-challenged digital universe, must either be entertaining or informative, preferably both. When it's neither, or rather when it's a ham-handed attempt at social/search mining, it creates a bubble of epic untrustworthiness.

So I'm begging my fellow writers: Get off this trend now, and sacrifice some discovery up front. Because what the hell good is discovery if what gets discovered is ultimately irrelevant?


ABOUT JOE PROCOPIO

Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio

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