Friday, June 20, 2008

Newspapers, Page Views, and Guilty Pleasures

One thing I don't like about reading stuff on the internet is that someone knows what you've been reading. I don't mean I worry that someone knows what particular things I am personally reading, but rather that it is clear what is collectively being read.

Sites count page views; they count them with care and for specific things; and reasonably, they take more clicks to indicate that there is more interest out there for that sort of thing. "More of that sort of thing," they conclude.

It's a little too bad, because it means one's guilty pleasures are never innocuous.

If I buy a newspaper, I enjoy feeling like some days I can study the international news, and other days I can just wallow in the Life section, and since no one knows either way, it makes no direct difference in how my reading is interpreted. I just, you know, bought the paper.

I'm sure more people buy when there's more catering to guilty pleasures, but I'm also sure that lots of people get a special pleasure from the package: it's nice knowing there's an in-depth story on the Ukranian political situation on page 3, or whatever, even if you're not going to read it today. I want those stories to be there, even if, let's admit it, I read them less consistently than I read the comics.

The total package is what I like about the paper.

Online you can't hide. If you click, guiltily, on the Paris Hilton news, you're part of the gazillion page views that the site gets for its Paris Hilton news, and then the site figures, gotta have more Paris Hilton news.

I know these forces exist in "old media" too; I just feel like they're so accelerated and personal now. Like, every time I click, I'm making life worse in the long run. You: hastening the end of civilization as we know it.

I don't know what the answer is but whatever it is I feel it will have something to do with the structure of advertising revenue, which I'm not up to thinking about right now. Maybe later after my mental candy fix of the morning. Ugh.

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