Elders Should Not Be the Enemy
GRAY MATTERS: How Socialism Really Works

Twitching Through the News

One of the things that is generally misunderstood is that dissatisfaction is not a personality flaw nor does it make you an unhappy person. But if you criticize the status quo or point out an inequity or declaim against corruption or whatever else is bothering you, a lot of people will dismiss what you say on the grounds that you are being negative.

I disagree. To be critical is to want things to be better and these days more than ever, I'll stick with this: if you're not angry, you're not paying attention.

Right or wrong in that, apparently, this week, I'm paying a lot of attention or, depending on your point of view, am having a bad week: Elder Tea Partiers piss me off one day, the anti-aging industry the next and today, it's the internet or more specifically, news websites and as a result, ironically, I'm paying less attention.

It has become impossible to read news online without developing something like attention deficit disorder or worse, stopping your brain from functioning altogether. Some examples:

Just try reading the headlines on the home page of the Washington Post. Suddenly the text jerks up or down and you've lost your place. The reason is that at the top of the left column, the paper rotates a series of photos with captions. Because the the captions are of different length, the switch pushes the column up and down, up and down twisting your brain like a pretzel.

Increasingly, at The New York Times and other media sites, the story suddenly fades to dark gray behind a full-screen ad that requires the reader to click the close button to return to the story. By then, you've forgotten where you were and, sometimes, even what the story is about.

On just about every media website, there are animated ads or videos on the right that keep jumping around at the edge of your field of vision making you feel twitchy as you lose your concentration on the story you're trying to understand.

Lately, there has been a large increase in boxes that crawl onto the screen from the left to cover exactly the paragraph you are currently reading. Most often, they are third-party pleas to take a survey (which is an ad in disguise) and because they hide the close button in different places each time and style it in such faintly-colored text, you can't possibly remember what you were reading by the time you find it.

Huffington Post is not alone, but they are the worst offender. They traffic in all of the above distractions and two others that are the most egregious on the web.

Just as you place your mouse on the headline of the story you want to click on, the page suddenly jerks up or down by four or five inches when they insert or delete a gigantic photo and headline at the top of the page. You've lost your place forever.

In addition, Huffpost republishes their home and section-front pages so frequently – sometimes several times per minute - reordering the stories so that it is impossible to find again what you were looking at. Often, the story is removed from the page altogether.

There is no excuse for these two practices except either disrespect for readers or technological incompetence. Standard practice elsewhere, as it should be, is to republish in the background and not change anything in the browser until the reader reloads the page. I've taken Huffpost off my handy quicklink list and no longer read it. It has become too stressful even before I get to the news.

There are more examples, but I'm sure you've become familiar with them too. They fry my brain so I am reading less and therefore knowing less, particularly those telling details that increasingly poor writing buries deep inside a story. (But that's a different rant.)

In the past couple of years, I've cut my print subscriptions to two. Much of what I read is published only on the internet anyway. A few days ago, The New York Times announced that at some point in the future it will end print publication and certainly all newspapers will follow along leaving us no recourse for information except the internet.

I'm no brain scientist, but these constant jerky interruptions cannot be good for our health. What does it do to our thought processes, to our understanding, our learning, our critical faculties, our concentration, our memory, our nervous system, our blood pressure?

And, as hard as it is on this old woman, what could it be doing to children's developing brains?

This is one of those issues that doesn't require an expert to confirm that it is unhealthy – to our minds, our bodies and ultimately, our participation in the public sphere - if we don't know what's going on, we can't make informed decisions.

I don't object to advertising; I just want it to stop making me twitchy.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, D. Sugar: Technivision


I was all ready to mention the Huffington Post when I read down. I usually agree with what they have to say, it's just so hard to follow it.

I stopped reading Huffington Post long ago. Apparently they have enough readers without us.

I think you need to adjust your pop-up blocker. I don't have most of the problems you describe, on the same sites. I do, however, hate the new WashPost front page, which jumps around as you describe.

I agree regarding the neurological and mood problems that result from twitchy media. The speed and twitchiness feels bad. Worse than the speedy edits in modern movies, which also stress the brain and body. If you look at a movie from the 60s and earlier, maybe even the 70s, things are so much slower or more even and easy to assimililate. Modern culture is full of this kind of unhealthy nonsense masquerading as contemporary pizazz.

All I do when I see things like pages of politics or the revamped "Opinions" in Newsweek is get angry. I don't have time left in my life to be angry.....so I ask informed friends and vote with only a fraction of the information. Right now I am dealing with dying friends and don't have time for dying politics.

"...a lot of people will dismiss what you say on the grounds that you are being negative."


When I worked for the state bar association, I would occasionally speak up about projects or other matters that I thought were bad ideas destined to fail. Almost invariably when something I spoke against did in fact fail, no one seemed to recall that I had tried to stop an ill-conceived idea from going forward. All anyone remembered was that I had been "negative"--the implication being that the failure was somehow caused by my lack of enthusiasm and was therefore my fault!

Unaccountably, I put up with that for almost five years before I moved on.

Soon NYT and others will start charging for online content. At that point we should all feel free to contact them and complain vociferously --about moving ads. Right now, a good deal of their economic support must come from companies that design and place these ads. I, like many others, am very good at ignoring most stationary ads. And the companies know it. As for the mobile headlines--ugh!

Ronnie, I want to thank you for again pointing out that its okay to be cranky with cause.

Unfortunately, I think the Huff Po's content is too often of the same quality as their presentation: lots of psazz and flash, less substance. I only visit there if referred by a trusted source and try never to link.

I use Firefox with an ad and pop-up blocker and see little of this. I do unblock ads on sites that ask me to nicely if I want to support them. (The sites, not the advertisers.)

The web feature that leads me to jumping around is the ability to open articles in a new tab. Too often I open a link in a new tab and then, instead of waiting until I've finished the one I'm reading, I jump over, read the new one, and then come back and wonder where I was. This can get pretty ADHD, but I'm doing it to myself.

Maybe web reading will require readers to learn new disciplined skills, just as other reading has. And some will, and some won't.

We're not being negative -- we're encouraging better web presentation. :-)

I've stopped visiting several sites because of this very annoying twitch. Very annoying.

This is off target but I just heard about it and think it is BRILLIANT!!

John Stewart and Stephen Colbert have announced that they will having competing rallies on the National Mall on October 30th:

John Stewart's Rally is titled: Rally to Restore Sanity and Stephen Colbert's counter rally will be: March to Keep Fear Alive!

I'm definitely going!!!

Ah, the good old days (just a mere few years ago) when ads were few and far between; when text ALONE ruled the internet as a source of information. When it began to really become irritating was when every site started having video/audio, some of it coming on automatically without even a click. I usually just keep the sound turned off on my computer, never have to hear it. Most videos from the media are preceded by a long commercial. I prefer to read...that is, when the script isn't moving or jumping around!

I have pop-up blockers/Firefox, but still get sideways boxes creeping or flashing across my line of reading text. I don't know why the ad folks think this is effective, instead of what it is: IRRITATING. And I'm NOT likely to click on an ad that is irritating me!

As for the "cult of optimism" I think it can be detrimental to society and people sometimes. It's one thing to be hopeful, something else to deny reality. A good book on that topic is: "Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America" by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Probably one of the most pitiful things I've heard was from a man who'd just lost his entire livelihood due to the BP disaster, say, "Yeah, it's...bad. But I don't want to sound negative..."


Ronni I bet you would enjoy the book "The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains" by Nicholas Carr.

No luddite, Carr is a science writer who argues -- and backs up with a lot of neurological and psychological studies -- that the kind of reading we do on the internet is making us cognitively stupider, that is, less able to engage in deep, concentrated thought. The book grew from a piece he did for the Atlantic a few years ago. Here's his blog, you may enjoy it:


You've nailed it again on the issue of being seen as negative (or cynical) when you're unhappy (and vocal) about the myriad problems facing our world. I also see no reason to keep up a sunny false front, or to be apologetic about not doing so. “Cynic, n: a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.” - Ambrose Bierce.

As for the extremely irritating animated/audio advertising now rampant on internet web sites, it bothers me so much that I avoid the worst offenders. For news, I listen to the radio (NPR, BBC, etc.) and still get three REAL newspapers, the kind that arrive with a thump in the drive and after reading can be used for lighting the fire and mulching the garden. Including the daily NY Times. The loss of that cherished institution will be deeply mourned. Unless major changes are made to the online version, I doubt I'll make the transition, especially if one must pay for the privilege.

Firefox, adblocker plus and noscript. Save your sanity. I don't see any ads on the Internet. None.

I have an ad blocker but I do realize that the newspapers are trying to stay in business and need that ad revenue. If it's a piece I really want to read, - and the paper doesn't have the "print" option which cuts out a lot of the annoying visual clutter, I will save the page to my HD. It's saved in two parts (on my Mac) with page for the print and a folder which contains all the ads, etc. I throw away the folder and then, can read the type on the saved page without all the distractions.

Thanks for the advice as to how to block those annoying ads. ad blocker improves matters somewhat. But noscript unfortunately also eliminates the ability to stream on netflix. Of course I want one thing but not the other. Any suggestions?

If, like me, your bank and other places where you do online business use pop ups, you cannot block them without having to constantly change the setting again and again.

If the Internet is driving you crazy, get a Kindle.

Years ago (60 or so to give you an idea), I was physically uncomfortable watching the jerky images of a movie screen. Eventually, the same discomfort was attendant to watching TV screens. Both, I attributed to my propensity toward migraine. Now, I find that web screen razzle-dazzles and color combinations give me the same effect.

Bottom line: My propensity toward migraine has kept me from becoming an avid viewer of any such media. I rely upon the radio for my news. When (as they are prone to do) they overdo reportage on a given story, I turn off the radio. Ah....How do you spell relief? Silence and dead screens.

marge, thanks for mentioning that book which I intend to read since I'm fascinated by brain function, neurological changes -- especially important given the work I do. We definitely should be concerned about the long term impact these visual assaults may be having on our neural connections.

I appreciate this piece reassuring me that the frustration I've been experiencing is not just my failure to appreciate new tech, nor is it a failure in how well my computer is setup to prevent popups, etc.

Earlier this year I had many weeks with an inner ear viral infection causing serious daily living functional deficits. Flashing lights, i.e. computer generated playing cards in a game of solitaire, much less all those web sites mentioned here, could be enough to set off the malfunctioning body balancing mechanism, usually accompanied by nausea which could escalate to full-fledged regurgitation. In fact,I didn't even use the computer for a while. TV can bother some people and mine even bothered me some for a day or two. Always looked away when video had lots of rapidly changing shots, flashing and the like -- often present in commercials, too.

People prone to migraine attacks -- of which there are many -- and numerous other visually related sensitivities experience these assaults as serious intrusions on their physical and mental well-being.

Yeah, guess it was inevitable, but sure hated to hear NYT would eliminate print.

I might mention, also, that many individuals I serve who have had, stroke, brain injury, numerous other neurological problems find the rapid video changes difficult or even impossible to follow. Sadly, I've had avid sports fans having to give up viewing games due to these video changes, inability to keep up with the incessant replays -- all this when they're acquired physical limitations and long for activities to engage their senses, thoughts and time.

I rarely get a lot of popups at those sites. I find that the blocker on Google toobar nails them good and proper.

Eric Idle (of Monty Python et al) wrote a song called "Always Look on the Bright Side" it was a very clever satirization of thr Positive Thinking Cult that Barbara Ehrenich did a though and devastating expose of in her "Bright Sided" book published recently. Briefly stated, the whole thing is a scam! Putting a smile on your face and whistling a happy tune (can you smile while you whistle?) isn't going to make this Great Recession go away or provide jobs for the 15% of our American young people who can't find jobs (and maybe never will).
Maybe the the "Tea Pots" have something, maybe it's time to get mad-mad as hell and go out and do something about the obscene mess that the whores in Washington have created.

Well, after reading the above comments, I've decided that my autumn vacation will be entirely offline. I am a total computer addict, but recently, I sense that my online attention span is decreasing.

So, I'll be out in a cabin in the woods reading Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" with NO computer access. I predict that the hot new vacation trend will be entirely non-digital. Also, predict that I will be back online with the blogs the minute I get back home!

A relative of mine often calls me negative. I call him gullible. An old saying is "One 'no' can prevent seventy troubles."

Rapid, flashing images in movies or on TV bother me so much I simply can't watch them. And those ads that block what I'm trying to read make me very negative indeed!


noscript allows you to manually accept or reject flash scripts from any website. Therefore, you can tell it to accept the scripts from Netflix but reject scripts from other sites of your choosing. Getting streaming video from Netflix shouldn't be a problem.

I have no problem with people grumbling. I think it is appropriate to vent. These are "interesting" times. I think there is an addiction to complaining that diffuses the thrust of a conversation with rallying a misery that loves company, however. I wonder if something of this sort of activity is not the foundation and life blood of wing nuts, in fact.

What I love is intelligent debate with all of its taking us out of our comfort zones. I lament that this process has been virtually eliminated from decision making and, it seems to me, that commiserating and blowing the blue bird of happiness up everyone's a$$ can threaten the prospect of keeping the point.

I perhaps should read more printed media but I can't help but wonder if the point of these constant advertising distractions isn't there to utilize our critical thinking muscles and turn to researching the blogs of the internet to seek and harvest the intelligent leaders speaking their minds and share what we find. How can we trust the foundations of the media that is beginning to look more than a bit desperate and suspect from the get-go? I mean REALLY! It seems to me a better use of our internet savvy would be to be sharing interesting leaders who are on the internet speaking their peace on subjects of effectual importance that can impact our lives. Somehow I think that these people would have to fight to be in the Huffington Post or the NYT for their lack of advertising cache.

As I said, I don't subscribe so maybe I should shut up but I have found that sometimes when things are turning south where we don't want to go it is indicative of needing to let go and seek the possible alternative and reevaluate why we are tolerating this. Sometimes things become annoying because they truly stink and that is the point.

The comments to this entry are closed.