Social Media: The Fast Food of the Internet

I haven’t been very satisfied with the internet these days. Actually, I haven’t been satisfied in general–why is there a bowl filled with Windex in my kitchen?–but the internet certainly hasn’t helped. Between bad advice, stupid comments in the comments section, and a steady, exhausting bombardment of celebrity news and Valentine’s Days advertisements, the internet seems less like a tool or a crutch and more just like an infinite cyber-trash heap, filling up our time with excess junk, similar to the way plastic is filling up our ocean. The culprit is not just cat pictures, or massive dicks but also the incredible and awful ways that the internet is replacing media in the real world with something far tackier and false.

“They” told us that the internet was going to revolutionize communication, and it did! Social media has exploded in a way that nobody could have predicted even a few years ago (or 20 years ago? when was the first hashtag?). When I worked for a newspaper in 2009, our connection to the internet consisted of uploading the articles onto the website and occasionally, as in once every month or so, posting web-only content such as videos. Now, blog posts and articles have become near simultaneous, articles must be accompanied by viral hash-tags or search terms, and everything must be glossed over with a false veneer of “clickability”; every news item, no matter how banal (“Taylor Swift has a Belly Button”), or perhaps simply obtuse (“Mets Relief Pitchers Projected to Lead League in Opponents’ Batting Average”) must compete in an insane online popularity contest.

In the end, while the internet has opened up new opportunities for news-gathering and understanding the world around us, mostly it has just tricked people. Social media is to print media as Fast Food is to Food; it’s easier to digest but it isn’t actually as good as the real thing. The internet hasn’t replaced traditional media with something better; it’s displaced it with something worse.

However, this being the internet, I’ll play by the house rules, so instead of continuing on a vague and self-righteous tirade, I’ve made a fancy “listicle.” According to social media “experts” (basically people over 40 who don’t quite understand technology), humans like lists, and they also like metaphors, so here is a list of metaphors comparing social media sites to their appropriate fast food counterpart.

  • Upworthy- The Whopper BK-whopper           The most famous burger in the world! “MAN BITES INTO A WHOPPER AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!” they might say. But all that advertising and history and hoopla is just used to disguise what is ultimately just a very plain, normal burger, with only the most obvious fixings. Like, what, not even a secret sauce? Consumers of Upworthy may enjoy it compulsively but your most common reaction to a video is most likely to be…”that’s all there is?” And when does exaggeration cross the line into becoming a…well, you know.
  • Twitter- Ketchup Pouches condi-pkt               “It’s a vegetable!” you cry defensively. “It’s an essential ingredient in our daily diet!” “Brevity is the soul of wit!”  Twitter is the media condiment bar, ‘spicing’ up our consumption. After all, its only 120 characters, it won’t go to your thighs right? But you can never take just one, can you? You have to follow them all. Soon your time and your pockets are loading with this shit. And then pretty soon let’s face it: you’ve developed a dependency on something that can be generously described as liquid processed sugar.
  • Buzzfeed- Cheesy Gordita Crunch taco-bell-cheesy-gordita-cr                                        TEN SIGNS ITS NOT ACTUALLY THINKING OUTSIDE THE BUN 1. It’s a list, not an article. 2. These facts are not facts at all. In fact, you might be horrified to discover that the facts are actually made with only 10% real information. The rest is some kind of empty filler which smells suspiciously of cardboard. 3. What is a “listicle” anyway? You are as likely to find a listicle in the New York Times as you are to find a “gordita” in Ciudad Juarez. 4. Butbutbutbut it’s something for everyone! Cheesy! Crunchy! Punchy! Fun! Informative! Please go viral pleaaaaaaaaaase! 5. I promised ten ingredients, so you will get ten ingredients, whether or not those ingredients actually go together. 6. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh 7. True story: I have never eaten a cheesy gordita crunch. I have not eaten Taco Bell since I was eight years old. 8. My dog, Nutsie, died in December and it was really upsetting because I’d never lost a pet before. 9. Do people even read through to number nine? If you’re reading this… 10. You might as well read this line too, in which I reiterate my hatred of Buzzfeed.
  • Pinterest/Flickr/Vine/those guys- Happy Meal Fries 8246802_orig                                                            There’s no pretense here. Just superficial savory morsels, and that’s fine right? Gotta have some fun every now and then. But buyer beware: there’s more in these than meets the eye. The originals have been heavily altered. Think those fries are naturally that thin? Think that nice golden tan is really meant to last thirty years? What is lost when we opt for the cheaper, tackier version of fried potatoes or a coffee table book?
  • Tinder- Dominoe’s Brownie Bites da91c1d3                                      Yummy yummy in the tummy. Skip the gross ones that got squished on their journey to you and take the ones that still smell like chocolate. More fun for you than the brownies; the brownies won’t ever know they’ve been rejected…they’re brownies! These stopped being so popular once people began feeling embarrassed about being seen with them in public. And ask yourself this: are you really going to find a happy ending with DOMINOE’S?!?! If you are, then, can I be honest? You’re either really shallow or you don’t expect a lot out of life.
  • MySpace- Roy Rogers’ Roast Beef Sandwich roy-rogers-roast-beef.jpeg                                                             Is there an explanation necessary? Maybe just this: there are still 1 million users of myspace. And also, chances are if you’ve ever ridden from New York to Washington DC along the Jersey turnpike and I-95, there’s probably a Roy Rogers’ sandwich from 2003 lost somewhere under your car seat. But you don’t want to go back there. Ever.
  • Facebook- Starbucks Caramel Macchiato CPM Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?  What is this even doing here? Isn’t it better than fast food? Doesn’t it provide, like, a usable service for the good of mankind? How many people at work have been able to get through the date without it? It’s changed our lives. For the better? Who knows, why place a value judgement on it?                                  Because, at the end of the day, something more sinister is going on here. Some people are using it just for the status. Riding the wave of the future, the explosive wave of popularity? Some people might even have an addiction, whether they admit to it or not. By turning to the same old brand, how many millions or billions of people now think they are doing something culturally or personally significant when really they’re just being lazy? Here is the most important thing to remember: A caramel macchiato is not actually a macchiato. You want a macchiato? You still have to do it the old fashioned way; going out into the real world. And research has been inconclusive as to whether or not getting Starbucks to sell your music has actually boosted your profile. Not that any of us are going to stop using these things any time soon. But a little self-awareness is good every now and then.