In the Loop

Giant squid and weddings: A peek into our collective mind

Posted at 4:40 PM on February 22, 2007 by Andrew Haeg

I've been watching as more and more news web sites add those "Most E-Mailed" and "Most Read" lists on the side or at the bottom of their web page. I find these fascinating ... and revealing, kind of like reading through the best seller lists for the US and other countries.

squid.jpgThe BBC has developed an amazingly cool Flash take on this which enables you to explore by region what's most popular and most e-mailed.

The bad news, as you might imagine, is that what tends to rise to the top of the list is Britney Spears shaving her head, or the latest behind-the-scenes Grey's Anatomy's drama, or in today's case, the giant squid caught by some New Zealand fishermen. Calamari anyone? (Photo credit: Getty Images)

But in the absence of major titillating and mesmerizing news events, it's informative and maybe a little depressing to see what rises to the top. New York Times readers seem to be waiting with baited breath for the latest recipe simplified for the time-crunched cook; or for anything feeding well educated and well compensated New Yorkers' (and their socioeconomic ilk's) insatiable wedding fetish.

The Star Tribune? Anything involving the Vikings is a sure bet for a top spot (here's today's example). (I struggle to understand the fascination with what is probably the most uninspiring sports franchise in the country, perhaps second only to the T-Wolves). Lately home explosions have attracted a great deal of attention.

To be fair, substantive and important issues are nearly always part of the mix in these lists too. I recently talked to the guy who helped start the BBC's web site, Alfred Hermida, and he said news leaders there had begun to take notice of these trends to understand where they might provide some more coverage.

Lots to be said for that. I'm not one to dismiss what captures public attention -- very often what fascinates us is also what has the greatest potential to affect us personally. News should live at this intersection.

But what about all of the other crap that simply triggers a burst of dopamine in our brains: Those little bits of distracting ephemera that we e-mail one another? I fear that profit-driven media will feed off this data and start giving us what we seem to want ... further hastening out culture's collective attention-deficit disorder.

What patterns have you noticed? Am I right to be concerned?

February 2007
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