This Video Will Make You Angry

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"What Makes Online Content Viral?" By Jonah A. Berger & Katherine L. Milkman"


Hello Internet.

Thoughts compete for space in your brain: cat photos, news stories, beliefs structures, funny GIFs, educational videos, not-so-educational videos and your thinking inventory is limited. A thought without a brain to think it, dies.

Now we can treat thoughts as though they're alive. Specifically alive like germs. That might sound weird but stick with me.

Take jokes. Jokes are thought germs that live in your brain -- and when you tell the joke to another brain, you help it reproduce.

Just like when you have the flu and sneeze to help it reproduce. This germ gets into its host by snot through the mouth and this one by words through the ear but it's reproduction either way.

Logging on to your social media then, is exposing yourself to everyone's mental sneezes. Each post a glob of snot with an thought germ trying to get in your brain -- if not for permanent residence then at least long enough to get you to press the share button and sneeze it with everyone you know.

In this analogy then, a funny cat photo with a perfect caption is a super-flu.

Now just as germs exploit weak points in your immune system, so do thought germs exploit weak points in your brain. A.K.A. emotions.

Once inside, thought germs that press emotional buttons get their hosts to spread them more -- measurably more. Well, except sadness, sad thought germs don't get very far. Awe is pretty good which is why websites that construct thought germs like biological weapons arm them with them titles like "7 whatevers that will blow your mind" or "The Shocking Secret behind... this thing"

But anger is the ultimate edge for a thought germ. Anger, bypasses your mental immune system, and compels you to share it.

Being aware of your brain's weak spots is necessary for good mental hygiene -- like knowing how to wash your hands. Because even without intentional construction, any thought germ on the Internet can, on its own, grow more infections as it spreads. To talk about why, lets forget anger for a moment and go back to that cat photo.

Every photo ever taken is a thought germ, and most die a quick death like the bazillion cat photos (or baby photos) posted on The Internet that are never shared. But a mildly funny cat photo can grow into so much more, because just as transatlantic flights were the best thing to happen to germ germs, so the Internet is the best thing to happen to thought germs.

For once on-board, that cat photo is a thought germ that can leap into other brains. And those brains might share it, and here's the key point, occasionally, change it -- a Photoshop here, a tweaked caption there.

Most changes are terrible, but some make the thought germ even funnier, getting brains to share it more. Which results in more changes and a shot at super-stardom. A thus a lowly cat photo can achieve global brain domination. At least for a few hours.

The Internet, with its unparalleled ability to share and randomly change thought germs can't help but help make them stronger.

With jokes, that's awesome -- but with angry germs not always so awesome. No.

Angry germs, the more they're shared undergo the same process, changing and distorting to be more aggravating. These have a better chance of spreading than their more accurate but more boring rivals.

But like plagues, thought germs can burn though a population too quickly. Just watch your favorite meme generating machine for a week and you'll see the life-cycle fly by.

However some thought germs have found a way around burnout. Now, I must warn you, depending on which thought germs live in your head and which you fight for, the next section might sound horrifying. So please keep in mind, we're going to talk about what makes some thought germs, particularly angry ones, successful and not how good or bad they are.

OK? Deep breath: calm.

Though germs can burn out because once everyone agrees, it's hard to keep talking and thus thinking about them.

But if there's an opposing thought germ, an argument, then the thinking never stops. Disagreement doesn't have to be angry, but again, angry helps. The more visible an argument gets the more bystanders it draws in which makes it more visible is why every group from the most innocuous internet forum to The National Conversation can turn into a double rage storm across the sky in no time.

Wait, these though germs aren't competing, they're co-operating. Working together they reach more brains and hold their thoughts longer than they could alone. Thought germs on opposite sides of an argument can be symbiotic.

One tool symbiotic anger germs in particular can employ is your-with-us-or-against-us. Whatever thought germ just leaped to the front of your brain, push it back. This video isn't about that. We're just talking about the tool, and this one makes it hard, for neutral brains to resist and its divisiveness also grows its symbiotic partner.

This explains why, in some arguments gaining more allies also gains more enemies. Because though the participants think they're involved in a firey battle to the death from the anger germs perspective one side is a field of flowers and the other a flock of butterflies. Of course planting more flowers will get you more butterflies and getting more butterflies will pollinate more flowers.

If there is some argument that splits the population and lasts forever that even the most neutral people find difficult to avoid, you just might be looking at a super successful pair of symbiotic anger germs that have reached ecological stability

Now, one final depressing though. Uhhhh… I mean one more Awe inspiring point, that will reveal the secrets of, ahhh -- actually no it's just depressing.

When opposing groups get big they don't really argue with each other, they mostly argue with themselves about how angry the other group makes them. We can actually graph fights on the Internet to see this in action. Each becomes its own quasi isolated internet, sharing thoughts about the other.

You see where this is going, right?

Each group becomes a breeding ground for thought germs about the other -- and as before the most enraging -- but not necessarily the most accurate -- spread fastest. A group almost can't help but construct a totem of the other so enraging they talk about it all the time -- which, now that you know how though germs grow, is exactly what make the totem always perfectly maddening.

Now, all this isn't to say that there's no point in arguing. (That's a different video). Or that the Internet isn't amazing, or that there aren't things worth trying to change peoples' minds about. And thought germs of all kinds come and go.

But it's useful to be aware of how thought can use our emotions to spread and how the more rapidly a thought is able to spread the more chances it has to become even better at spreading through random changes made to it. Sometimes that's great, sometimes it's terrible.

But if you want to maintain a healthy brain it pays to be cautious of thoughts that have passed through a lot of other brains and that poke you where you are weakest.

It's your brain -- be hygienic with it.

So, of course this video is a thought germ, one constructed very intentionally over time to spread a thought germ about thought germs -- exposing their secrets -- one could say. But I tried as hard as possible, not to have, this video attack your brain through emotions, so it could use a little help spreading. Please be a good germ vector and click the share buttons to sneeze this at your friends. Your coworkers. Your family. Infect them all.

You shared the video, right? Well if you're still here, you really got infected hard. Only thing left is to click onscreen and sign up to the email list which will get you exposed to many more thought germs in stick figure video form.

How 'Hello Internet' is Edited

During the editing of the Christmas episode of Hello Internet I recorded the screen for a time-lapse video. This show was unusually long so it ended up being 11 hours compressed down into an hour. For those of you interested in the details, here is how my editing process looks:

Edit 1: The Rough Cut

Two things happen here:

1) Alignment

Brady and I use the dirty-sounding double-ender recording method: he records the audio locally on his end, I do the same on my end and additionally I record the call with both of us.

The first thing that needs to be done is to sync our two local recordings using the recording with both of us. Double-ended recording adds a lot of work but has the benefit of making the audio quality much higher.

2) Cut Boring Nonsense

There are many things that can obviously be cut: technical problems, segments that don't work out or that are just boring.

Because this phase doesn't require visual attention in the same way as other tasks, I can play a game during this phase. Prison Architect has been my go-to at this stage from the beginning.

When complete, this edit gets sent to Brady to listen to for any edit suggestions.

Edit 2: The Precision Cut

(Starts at 17:45)

This is where most of the work happens. This edit is to tighten the podcast as much as possible: I'm listening for any sentence (or word) that can be cut without loss. I don't cut all the 'ummms' because then it wouldn't sound like a real conversation but I do cut as many of the annoying ones as I can.

Any conversation over The Internet is going to have some points where the participants talk over each other. Another advantage of double-ended recording is it allows me during this edit to pull apart those sections for easier listening.

Edit 3: the Final Cut

(Starts at 39:00)

This edit is for three things:

1) Add in the sponsor reads and jingles

If I'm on top of things I've recorded my ads and gotten any of Brady's ads between cut 2 and cut 3. This is the time to figure out where they go best and to add in the theme and jingles.

2) Create the show notes.

On the final listen through I add in links to the things we have discussed in the video. While in theory I could do this in edit 1, I'd rather wait until all the cuts have been made.

(You do know about the show notes, right? You can easily look at / click on them because you're using a podcast app like you should right?)

3) Listen for errors.

I've learned from experience it's easy to make pretty embarrassing errors in edit 2, so this listen through is to catch them. While I listen to the first cut at 2x and the second cut at 1.5x this final cut is at normal or almost-normal speed because there are sometimes little audio glitches that are difficult to notice at the faster speeds.

Why Bother?

Why take all this time editing the show if it's just a casual, two-dudes-talking show? Well, let's be honest: many two dudes talking shows are death to listen to. Many people who start podcasting assume that sounding casual also means that the process of creation is casual. But it's often the reverse: a casual sound requires a lot more effort to make it bearable to actually listen to. While there are some podcast naturals who can just roll the tape and let it fly, that's not me. Luckily that can be fixed with work.