Dave Duncan

"Eat Well, Stay Fit, Die Anyway"

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When I was in Junior High (or Senior Elementary as we called it), I had a job delivering newspapers. When I came home from school, the bundle was waiting for me on the driveway, but before I loaded them on my bike, I sat down at the table and read them over. Then I would ride down to the end of the road where an increasingly senile old man would tell me that, in keeping with the Roman style, he’d have to kill me if I was bringing bad news. While the early 90’s had its share of bad news, I could usually find some good news to spare my life.

When I got to University, I was excited to find all kinds of newspaper companies offering their product for free, in the hopes that I would enter into a long term product preference relationship with them.

These days I get my news online. Google is happy to search the headlines of the world for me, and then deliver a series of headlines and images to me, hyper-referenced to articles it thinks I would find interesting.

So, not only have I developed a habit of reading the news, but also of not paying for it. Unfortunately for anyone in earshot when I’m reading it, I’ve also developed a habit of commenting on what I’m reading. There are millions of others like me, and the web hosts of news sites have clued in on this. Now, when you read a news story on any credible/popular new source, you can make a comment, or read from the scores of comments left by other readers.

I, on the other hand, benefit from a condition that is rarely a benefit in any way, I am perpetually afraid that I will come off looking like an idiot. This either prevents me from making comments or at least delays it long enough that I realize any comment I make would certainly be 1) ignored, 2) redundant, 3) fuel for an already cyclical debate, but most likely 4) a combination of the above.

Almost every time I read an article though, the same thing happens. I scroll down a little bit too far and I get a glimpse of how many comments there are. Then I read one, then another, and then it’s almost like I realize again for the first time how pointless the comments are. I can’t think of a single time that my news reading experience has been improved because of a comment I read at the bottom of the page.

These comments also fall into predictable patterns. For any kind of moderately serious crime, posters will use the story as yet another justification to reinstate the death penalty, blame the current or former government for allowing the crime to occur, or offer tips to investigators based on their analysis of the evidence provided in the article. Almost every story of course invites people to blindly defend their nation, political party, race, religion, gender or business as righteous, whether or not their compatriots in the story are clearly the victims, the attackers or simply bystanders in the particular incident.

So I thought it would be fun to speculate on what kind of comments would be generated if today’s news environment were present at big events in our history. Sometimes we already know the general opinion at the time, but the Internet would just make those opinions roughly a million times as extreme.

Go ahead, think of your own. Our friends at XKCD have done it for the moon landing. Here’s my kick at the can:

Titanic Sinks
Once thought to be unsinkable, the large British vessels hit an iceberg and falls to the ocean floor. Thousands are feared dead. More to come.

– “I hope this convinces a few more people to stay back in Europe. Last thing we need is more immigrants.”
– “Did anyone check the water for German subs? I don’t buy this iceberg bull-**** for a second.”
– “If boats like this can sink, what’s next? The end times are upon us.”
– “I wonder who was on this boat that the powers that be were afraid of. This administration will stop at nothing to keep their grip on power.”
– “Did the captain go down with his ship? I hope they don’t let him on dry land if he didn’t.”

Note: I hate reading comments on real stories by real writers. I’m just an idiot. Comment away.


1 comment

1 Comment so far

  1. Dan July 14th, 2009 11:37 am

    Great post Will!


    Hopefully that was worth reading.

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