Rubbernecking

To rubberneck or not to rubberneck. Care about the latest pop culture scandal? The latest murders by terrorists? By a state? The political gaff that might end a career? Nude celebrities? How much of rubbernecking is about curiosity? Moral superiority? Schadenfreude? Money for the advertisers? Bragging rights?

Cultural phenomena are participatory. Even those that steer clear of them are participating as the steelnecked eyes-forward crowd. For another, they inevitably color other aspects of life, so in some cases becoming unavoidable.

I still hold to my definition of general news as something that raises a general issue in society (and therefore can be discussed in that context). Subculture news is any news that isn’t applicable to the whole society. Sporting news, business news (where it’s about specific industries and not their impact on society at large), etc.

Most open source news does not pertain to the public, but Heartbleed did. It raised the specter of insecurity due to lack of maintenance of infrastructure. As have countless other scandals, which is to say there is an accumulation of evidence that as a society we need to place greater focus on secure computing.

The problem with these bleed-through stories comes in how they get retargeted. The media knows our buttons, and if they can retarget a story that might provoke social change to one that will simply devolve into a frenzy, they will shamelessly spin away. A story that should drive improved security might sink to the level of schoolmarmery, imaming about immorality. A story about a politician running away from home to join the Wall Street does not obtain scandal, but is framed as local hero makes good.

So even if you rubberneck, what you see is not what happened. What you see is the antibiotic-fed, deboned, technicolor TV dinner version. The camps do not look in on each other, to try to understand or find the process of events developing. They simply rely on stereotypes and facts be damned. They don’t need facts, they buy pesticides to kill facts. Infacticides.

The first step is to make sure you have something to look at. The rules are just like writing fiction. Give them a question, give them a conflict, some sort of tension they want resolved. Is there a bad guy that we can pretend to hunt down and bring to justice? It’s a narrative form.

The second step is to just keep pointing to that first step. If you get closure, great. If not? Well you can still pump the story for awhile yet, until something better comes along. It won’t matter to the readers or viewers or listeners. They love a randomized reinforcement schedule. You’ll have them hooked indefinitely.

So rubberneck with caution, if at all. You don’t want to give them a chance to addict you to their fantasy reality version of the world. Arm yourself with the question, “does this really matter to me?” If you find out that it doesn’t, don’t ask for your money back, just walk away.