Today is Net Neutrality Day and thousands of websites have joined together in a brief slowdown of the loading of their pages to point out what will happen if the FCC decides to create paid internet “fast lanes” for big corporations like Comcast and Netflix.
At first, I intended to join them until I discovered that doing so involves a pop-up announcement with a link to a page where you can let lawmakers know you support net neutrality.
As you will find out further down this post, pop-ups (and other forms of advertising) have become so debilitating to human brain function that I will not add even this one to our decreasing abilities to concentrate. You can support net neutrality here – and please do.
In recent years, intrusive advertising has so increased in amount, length, sound volume and repetition that it outnumbers news, information and entertainment on webpages. This is no longer an exaggeration.
[Before we go any further with this discussion, let it be understood that anyone thinking to advise me about Adblock should go immediately to the back of the class. I have bank and other important accounts that do not function if Adblock or similar programs are in play and I do not want to be constantly enabling and disabling it.]
Most advert intrusions fall into either audio/visual or pop-up categories. Here are some the worst examples:
AUDIO/VIDEO: Music, narration or other audio – always a commercial - begins the moment the page loads. The source is, nowadays, hidden somewhere so far below the fold as to be unfindable (deliberate, of course) so to end it, all computer audio must be muted – not a useful choice.
Among many others, Huffington Post, TalkingPointsMemo, Time, Salon and The New York Times are offenders and USA Today doesn't even supply a mute or stop button so that the only escape route is to close the page. Which I do and now I've stopped visiting the site.
So many other websites have recently copied the no close/no mute button practice that I'll soon have no way to read the news online.
Another awful practice presented itself from Reuters. I had left open the page while I checked email and suddenly a commercial blared forth.
There were about 10 tabs open in my browser and no way to know which one was the culprit without taking the time to go through them all and search each page for the hidden audio.
While, of course, I had lost my train of thought and even what email I was dealing with.
I rarely visit the AARP site but was not too surprised last week to find that they have taken up the practice of suddenly blaring audio when I was well into reading a story, with no indication of how to find the origin.
POP-UPS: Pop-up (under, over, behind, etc) purveyors have become expert at timing the intrusion until you have read just enough to be engrossed and then they cover the exact paragraph and sentence you are reading.
Daily Kos does this and they pain you further by providing a close button but guess what? It won't work for about ten seconds. Do they really believe I'll keep visiting their site after that's happened several times? I have unbookmarked them.
The New York Times has their own annoyance that a few other sites I visit regularly have adopted. You've just settled into the story. You might already be at paragraph three or four when whoosh! The entire story is pushed below the fold by a giant, full-screen advertisement, often a movie poster, sliding down from the top.
But wait. If you are fool enough to scroll down as fast as you can in hopes of finding the place where you left off reading, Surprise! Just as you do, the advertisement closes by sliding back to the top, dragging the text with it and you've lost your place a second time.
Then there are the slide-ins. Truthdig does this and like the pop-ups, they are timed to cover what you are reading – but it's not even an ad. It begs you, for god's sake, to like them on Facebook. Interrupt me for something as silly as that and I'm gone. Forever.
TalkingPointsMemo also uses slide-ins from the sides but they have graduated to repeating them – again and again – as you move your cursor around trying to stop them from opening and closing. Nigh impossible.
But it is Raw Story that has taken the interruptions to the limit of human endurance – you know, the point where you smash your head into the computer screen.
A video starts blasting as soon as you arrive. It takes a minute or more to find it somewhere near the bottom of the screen and when you scroll back up, re-read a few sentences to find the place where you left off – at exactly that moment, a pop-up covers the entire page.
There seems to have been a big uptick the number and annoyance factors of these interruptions in recent months and while keeping this “intrusion diary,” I've become painfully aware of how short my attention span has become and worse, how jumpy I have become in general.
Reading a long (paper) magazine story or a book (paper or Kindle) has become hard. After 10 or 15 minutes, my mind wanders and feel myself searching for a distraction.
I realize it has been a long time since I have lost myself in a narrative and that, since I first learned to read, has been one of my greatest pleasures in life. I miss it and am determined to get back that kind of enjoyment but I doubt it will come easily.
I am convinced that as much as TV has, over decades, shortened our ability to focus, the internet, even before pop-ups and instant sound, have made it so much worse that I now question my ability for productive thought and for me, that is as terrifying as dementia. Hey, maybe it is a form of dementia.
So I have cut my online subscriptions (paid and free) and alerts at least in half including a lot of my favorite news and aging sources. I am limiting my reading to my morning coffee, lunch when I'm home and half an hour in the late afternoon just before I shut down the computer for the day.
I was lucky enough, as managing editor of the first cbsnews.com website beginning in 1995, to be part of the creation of the news and commercial web. It was a fascinating time – we were inventing it, making it up as we went along.
When the technology advanced far enough for audio, video and animation, my colleagues and I along with virtually all other reputable websites rejected automatic starts. Users, we believed, should make the choice of when to listen or watch.
That sane decision is gone now, I am seriously concerned about my brain health and further, I find it extremely odd that for all the time I've spent online until now, I have never seen a rant about this issue. I wonder if I'm the only one who is worried.
Don't forget to let your voice be heard on net neutrality.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: The Waiting Time