The Valley of Ambiguity

The Valley of Ambiguity

From Annalee Newitz’s (excellent) theory on viral journalism and the valley of ambiguity. Newitz is the editor-in-chief of io9 and author of Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive A Mass Extinction.

TED videos, often seasoned with cheery platitudes, become viral for the same reason that grumpy cat pictures do. They don’t ask us to think critically — just to enjoy, or be amused and enlightened without the time-consuming labor of skepticism and doubt clouding our clicks. Why do we want to share these stories? Because in some sense they are not open to interpretation. You don’t have to worry whether your friends will wonder why you shared this — it’s obvious.

The same goes for viral journalism on the other side of my chart. These stories, like explainers, how-to guides, Mythbusters-style debunkery, and truth-telling investigative journalism, are in some ways the opposite of a stupid video or a LOLcat. They are about truth, rather than amusement. But in fact, they go viral for exactly the same reason LOLcats do. They are not open to interpretation.

I guess we can all publish more feel-guide self-help guides, or just pretend that our low tweet counts (ahem) are a sign that we have asked our readers to do some critical thinking — and, by extension, we’re brilliant.

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