Commenting without reading: An April Fools experiment by NPR

April 5, 2014 | By | Reply More
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NPR played a clever April Fools trick this year. It posted a link on FB with the following headline: “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?.” The trick is that this link was only the link you see attached to this FB posting. There was no real article. NPR urged it’s readers (those who actually followed the link) to merely “like” the article, but not comment. That was a miserable fail–many readers desperately wanted to show that they actually read the “article” and “got” the prank. Even so, hundreds of people commented on the “article.” Presumably, they read only the headline “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?” and believed that they were well enough informed about the “article” to respond, sometimes with lengthy comments. If you’d like to see the comments, visit NPR’s FB page and scroll backwards to April 1, then scroll back through the comments. It’s also hard to miss the pomposity of the many people (both those who realized this was a prank and those who didn’t) who suggest that they are smarter because they “read,” as though reading (regardless of what they CHOOSE to read) makes a person smarter. And what can you say about the fact that hundreds of NPR followers don’t see the need to read the article before commenting?

I admit that I often scan what I read (I sometimes catch myself scanning even the book I’m currently reading, Daniel Goleman’s “Focus,” on the importance of attention). I do it knowing that I’m giving up detail to catch the broader message. When I comment, though, I’m keenly aware that I need to read the thing on which I am commenting, or else I’m at risk of being called out and embarrassed. Perhaps I have become this way because I’ve worked as a lawyer for many years, and there is a huge price I could pay in open court for failing to carefully reading material to which I am responding. The Internet is nothing like court, of course. It’s filled with people who want to believe, people who want to show support without putting in the time and people who want to hijack conversations to their own favorite issues. Unlike open court, the biggest price one usually pays for being full of shit is that one is ignored. The NPR “article” gave the wanna-be readers some attention for a change.

The NPR prank certainly showed that many NPR fans mouth off without reading. It was a gratifying prank for me on yet another level. I occasionally tune into public radio. When I do, I am often annoyed by the hosts and guests who wave around their large vocabularies rather than simply saying what they are trying to say. I am also annoyed by some hosts who, in the guise of “interviewing” guests, can’t restrain their own urge to show the audience how much they (the host) knows. These are tactics that display insecurity, narcissism and elitism, rather than intelligence. To make matters worse, huge amounts of corporate funding of NPR (much like the Koch funding of PBS) has filtered out hard-hitting progressive viewpoints in the news and commentary. Why isn’t Democracy Now given a national slot, for example? These problems have made NPR a hit and miss proposition for me, despite its periodic excellence.

NPR is the best radio programming out there for those who want more than factoids, but it has massive room for improvement. Based on this year’s April Fools prank, NPR’s readers and listeners also have considerable room for improvement.

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Category: Communication, hypocrisy, ignorance, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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