Teaching Clickbait (Reflections from an Airport): Part I

I love the soundtrack of life. I’ve learned to pay very close attention to the songs my brain tosses up like messages in bottles, because it generally pertains in some super deep way to my current woes and joys that I could never come up with consciously.

Also, like forcing yourself to write in iambic pentameter or haiku, laying the songs you hear over what’s going on in your head can also be instructive. Today, my soundtrack is the piped in music of the Rochester airport as I wait for a flight to Detroit. First observation: I recognize ALL of the songs, along with some sharp memories of rubber bracelets and leg warmers. As it happens I am the demographic the airport is reaching for: the average age of travelers in the US is between 45 and 47 years old.  Ugh. Do you really want to hurt me?

But onto the heart of the matter. So, these are the things I can do without:  my own clickbait experiment a couple of weeks ago. Turns out I don’t mind a bit of muck-raking (in the pre-World War I definition of that phenomenon), back and forth in the comments, or even a provocative title: but I paid attention to my gut in the days following “I Hate Humans of New York,” and it didn’t like what I’d tried.

Funny, because by several metrics, the thing worked: I should harden and heart and swallow my tears, given that the post currently has well over a thousand unique views, and potentially bumped up my general readership numbers a bit and decreased my bounce rate. I should be so happy, doing this neutron dance! 

Except I’m not. Because the title wasn’t true.

While I have enough writing skill to spin the title’s premise into something resembling the genuine conflict I felt about the Vidal HONY post, I deliberately pushed a vitriolic verb I didn’t really feel in its depth up against a feel good story. Its main purpose, in the end, was not to be provocative from my heart. It was to get clicks. Which kind of sucked up the basically good, if whiny, point of the thing, and made it useless. Run, readers. Run so far away.

So, there’s my hindsight 20/20 confession about that. But perhaps together we can live and learn in the Love Zone. The whole thing got me thinking about how large a place insta-contrarian writing now occupies in our public sphere. (I’m not the only one who’s noticed– The Pessimist takes this kind of writing down hilariously here. Apparently I flouted the genre conventions by not mentioning “Girls.”) And a hallmark of this genre is, of course, the clickbait title.

It made me wonder how far behind the world I might be lagging, if I were still teaching seventh graders in the classroom according to my typical, book-based curriculum. Happily, the walls are crumbling down in emphasizing the importance of digital media and modes in English Language Arts as a field, but almost always in practice as a method to be explored– not a genre, with its own implicit rules and expectations, to be critiqued.

Despite its challenges, the Common Core really does a lovely job with this topic, providing a tight, logical spiraling staircase of critical digital literacy for us to follow. (Check out this post from JoeWoodOnline, which elegantly lays these ideas out.) I can expand on the post a bit by saying that critical evaluation of digital sources is actually introduced in 6th grade to limited degree, by asking kids to evaluate the credibility of digital sources.

Which brings up a fascinating question. Was my piece less credible because of its title?

An upcoming post will suggest a framework for a 6-8th grade self-contained lesson centered on evaluating the credibility of clickbait. Stay tuned, readers. Thanks for sticking with the blog in times of transition and change. You mean the world to me.