Yesterday, during a two-hour drive from Asheville to Charlotte, my car radio’s touchscreen display froze, leaving me trapped on a country station on which a live church service was being broadcasted. Instead of shutting off the radio, I decided to listen in, finding deep-south religious ramble fascinating in the same way I find football debates on Twitter fascinating.
The preacher’s main point, of course, was that the world was in complete disarray and that the only hope, the only method by which it may be corrected is the coming of all of man “by grace, through faith” to his lord, Jesus Christ.
There is a parallel between this classic religious assertion and the assertion made by content creators and advertisers each day that one does not really have to look hard to draw. Unfortunately, for users of any media, the things that one may believe are making him or her smarter, are actually, in most cases, only making somebody else richer. “Content,” for my older or less technologically sound readers, is simply the “stuff” you see on the internet. This includes the photos you view, the articles you read, the videos you watch, and the podcasts you listen to. This content is created chiefly to draw your attention toward a particular point, and will often conclude with a call to action. This call-to-action may come in the form of a sign-up, a link to click, or a request for a follow.
Historically, this isn’t new. It is an inherently religious tactic used to recruit members for centuries, and employs the following basic steps:
A Problem — An assertion that there is something inherently flawed about existence. In the case of the radio preacher, he was sure to repeat over and over again his contention that something was very wrong with “society,” which in his case, meant specifically American society. His actual words were “we live in a world where certain people would have us believe that wrong is right and right is wrong.” If you’re paying attention, it’s easy to understand that his “certain people,” equate to whomever it is that does not subscribe to the same ideology as him.
A Solution — An answer to the stated problem. In the case of the preacher, this, of course, is Jesus. The convenient thing about the solution most religions offer is that they don’t have to actually garner any results, because it is stated up front that the solution will not actually occur until one or both of the following things happen: either the person dies and gets to go to heaven, or Jesus returns to earth and grants all of his followers the access they deserve.
A Way Forward — This is that “call to action.” In the case of the preacher, this meant a complete renewal of one’s life through the acceptance of Jesus into one’s heart. Which, in the Protestant tradition, simply means asking Jesus to do so, and stating that He is “Lord.” He’s asking you to hit “subscribe,” to become one of the followers of Jesus, and in turn — he being a representative of Jesus on earth — a follower of his.
The idea of this article is not, by the way, to convince you not to consume content or to leave your church. This article is, in its own right, technically content. Instead, I hope that you’ll find yourself a better consumer of content having read this. Content may be, and often is, a very good thing. It allows vast amounts of information to be distilled into a simpler form and made easier to consume. In this, you often are made smarter. It’s important though to understand the intention behind the content being posted.
I have to admit, rather mischievously, that I employed some classic tricks to even get you to open this article. In the title, I used two tactics that both religion and content creators use to get folks to look:
A Set of Three: Because it is easily digestible and easily remembered, a set of three works as a powerful rhetorical mechanism, hence “Content, Devotion, and the End of Days.”
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Veni, Vidi, Vici.
“We are a nation that has lost its confidence, willpower, and strength.”
2. Fear: In using the term “the end of days” I triggered your limbic system, the part of your brain built to panic. This is a tactic religions — Christianity included — have employed since their inceptions. In content — and specifically in getting you to click this article — poking at the limbic system is a powerful attention-grabbing tactic, causing the reader to think twice about scrolling past the article since there may be life-saving advice contained within it.
You aren’t stupid, by the way, if you’ve ever fallen for any of these tactics. They’re sound in their ability to draw attention, but there are consequences for not knowing when they are being employed. The life of the mind has the chance to flourish in the internet age, but it also has the chance to be diluted, like most information on internet content, down to only what the creator wants the reader to see, and therefore, to know.