I’m bored of so-called “think pieces”. They are everywhere these days, spreading like a virulent disease that is quick to spread but tricky to treat. They used to be interesting, thought-provoking long-form essays that you’d find in the newspaper. They’d take the form of a full-page piece which would be well-researched and which would pose an intriguing question. There’d be some discussion, ideas, questions, and references. They were well-written and the topics varied and carefully chosen, and they’d add something to the selection of news on offer in the paper. I used to like reading them when I was little, spreading out the big broadsheet my parents had delivered every day – The Glasgow Herald, as it was then. The essays tended only to appear in the weekend editions, I think.
These days, the art of the thoughtful essay has degenerated into a sort of textual-verbal diarrhoea. The dominance of social media has led many publications and most newspapers to create their own online presence. My own ire at the modern think piece came to a head recently as a result of just such a social media presence – I had clicked ‘like’ on the Guardian’s Facebook page and, as a result, was subsequently bombarded with the inane and tedious ramblings of humanity. The sorts of things that should take the shape of a quiet thoughtful moment where you turn over events or ideas in your head, perhaps discuss them with a friend or partner, are now being spat out onto the page and presented as ‘insight’.
There’s rarely any real research, certainly nothing that extends beyond asking a couple of mates for their thoughts on the topic of the day. There are no books or studies or online journals being cited – this would probably interrupt the process of tapping out their innermost thoughts. The torrent of outright rubbish that fills my timeline has included, recently, some fool whining about how Facebook makes a liar of everyone because people can’t be ‘real’ on it – we have to always be happy and project an image of success and unmitigated joy and this is evil Facebook’s fault and look what they’ve done to us all, we’ve all fallen into the trap of glamorous lies instead of keeping it real. Honestly – give me a break. If people chose to look on the bright side rather than moan, then fine. If people want to have an outlet to get a gripe off their chest, then fine. But don’t blame Facebook for ‘making’ you do it!
There was one about a father whose baby had fallen ill with a minor ailment. Off he rushed to hospital with the child where they received some medication and baby thereafter returned to perfect health. His dilemma? The fear of what might have happened to his child and how it might have affected him. In other words, he realised in a moment of vulnerability how dearly he loved his child and was glad that the baby was none the worse for a minor infection. Seriously – that was an article. That’s the sort of thing you discuss with your friends and together you acknowledge that being a parent can be scary and it reminds you how precious your family is. Maybe you blog it or tweet it but that’s it. It’s not an essay, it’s not worthy of mainstream publication. It’s a just thought. It’s just an experience, we all have them.
The evolution of social media and, along with it, the idea that all ideas and opinions are both worthy and valid, has ruined the think piece. What happened to editorial judgement?! Who is looking at these things and deciding that they’re fit to be published in mainstream media? When I read my newspaper or magazine, I want to read stimulating articles on a range of topic issues, from politics, to technology, from health to the arts. I honestly don’t care about the existential crisis of some anonymous random who’s just had his first date night with his wife after the birth of their baby. This is not earth-shattering news, it’s two people doing what lots of people do when trying to claim back a piece of normality in the topsy-turvy life they now inhabit since baby arrived. Take it to the message boards, where it belongs.
Clearly the simple solution to this is to ‘unlike’ the Facebook page and return to reading the newspaper in the more traditional fashion, selecting those articles which are of interest and passing over the waffle. But I would like to make an appeal for the return of editorial scrutiny – please?