Stop it. Dot com. Dot … html.

PHOTO: Sybren Stüvel, Flickr CC

In the 21st Century, the tech savvy are getting to be old cranks as most people just don’t seem to get it. (PHOTO: Sybren Stüvel, Flickr CC)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Remember that cantankerous “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney? Or the old Chicago metro columnist Mike Royko? Even the Duluth News Tribune had Jim Heffernan. They each had an opinion about everything. As a young writer I admired them more than would be considered normal. I remember one of them, Heffernan I think, wrote something about pants. Something like, “Did you ever notice how short zippers have gotten these days? Remember how they used to go all the way down?

I was too young to know the generous zippers of the past, but the idea appealed to me as a misshapen teenager in the 1990s and remains alluring even today.

Rooney, Royko and their peers told it like it is, which pleases many readers. But what most folks won’t admit is that “telling it like it is” is usually code for “giving people an unreasonably simple explanation for a world that includes both Gandhi and Captain Crunch.”

Would I get very far if I just randomly told people that our petty woes are nothing compared to the perils facing the Planet Earth? Of course not. I don’t like how the zippers on my pants work. I would like longer zippers. Maybe if my crotch felt better I would recycle more. Who knows!? People love hearing things like this. It’s what we actually believe.

See, the world is a big place, but we tend to see what’s in front of us. That’s where the challenge of technology comes in. Our world is suddenly much bigger, but strangely smaller too. As a writer of Iron Range stories and resident of Minnesota’s North Woods I see the best new technology attached to industrial shovels and blasting caps; everything else is running a few years late. So, too, is the sophistication of people using the technology.

In earlier times on the internet, this was represented by people mindlessly forwarding e-mail jokes, printing them off to read in public. Our state senator was doing this as recently as 2010. For most, this tactic finally faded, only to be replaced by new digital faux pas.

For instance, most people now experience the internet through smart phones, which means more emphasis on text and media messaging. Invariably one finds themselves in a group text, perhaps to determine who brings what to a meal, or updates on some important family news event. What begins as an innocent relay of information spirals into a sea of “thumbs up,” emoji, and extraneous comments that hurl 35 people down a dinging, donging rabbit hole.

So don’t do that.

Another thing, watch for click bait. You know what bait is, right? There’s a reason we use bait to catch fish but fish don’t use bait to catch us. It’s because we’re smarter than fish. That is, at least, our working premise. But click bait is anything on the internet designed to get you to click on something, or share it without much thought. And it works like your best jig.

For instance, in recent months we’ve seen several list posts going around declaring various towns in Minnesota as the “Best Places to Live,” “Worst Places to Live,” “Laziest Places,” “Ugliest Places,” and the like. Someone throws some data together to make the list, grabs a picture off the internet and posts it. People in those towns take great umbrage and then go on sharing the very thing that offended them, arguing all the time at how wrong it is. Further, city councils and boosters will share things that say their town is the best at something, even if the organization saying so is a man covered in Cheetos dust who has never actually been here.

Don’t do that. Also, if something online has a headline like “Hilarious Animal Fails” but features a picture of a scantily clad lady, you will either get naked ladies or animal fails, but never both. Probably neither.

Even with advanced data networks, humans are increasingly ruled by superstition. For instance, you shouldn’t share a thing on social media just because the thing tells you to. If God really needed you to share something, He/She would prepare the item with professional design standards and a legible font. Sharing a pixelated Dumpster fire that’s been resized 50 times, contains basic syntax errors and resembles a 13-year-old’s creation on Grandma’s Microsoft Paint will not get you to heaven. If it does, Hail Satan, because I don’t want to go.

Would you spray paint the word “Repent!” on a rusted chuck of fender from a Chevy Astro van and insist that be passed around at Thankgiving?

Don’t answer. I know too many people who would.

Who am I to tell everyone what to do on the internet? Trust me, I have a newspaper column. I am a manifestation of the internet printed out every Sunday morning.

Just one more thing: you’ll see there’s a share button on this page (I assume you’re reading this online). Would you just, yeah, click that there. Good, good. That’s a conversion. They just might keep me around.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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