I am speaking in a school soon. They are doing a series looking at aspects of modern culture. Movies, TV, popular trends, etc. For some reason, I chose to talk about clickbait. I chose it because my original idea was to speak about the Fast and Furious series and I didn’t think I had time to watch all eight movies before I had to give the talk, though that would have been a wonderful use of my time. So I said I’d do clickbait. While I thought clickbait might be a good idea and now I think just liked the headline before I thought through the substance. “This guy did a Bible talk on clickbait, you’ll never believe what he said.”
So what do I say in a Bible talk about clickbait?
Firstly, I hate clickbait. I think I hate it most because I want to click it, I do click it, and then I feel like an idiot because I did click it. Once on the site, I then proceed to click through 15 advertisement-filled pages to see what is so “unbelievable” and what will “leave me in tears” only to be entirely underwhelmed. When it’s all over I feel even more annoyed at myself for having fallen for clickbait once again.
I guess what is sad about clickbait is that it takes curiosity, which is generally a good thing (unless you’re a cat), and cynically turns it into a money making opportunity. You want to discover something interesting, you’re aware you’re being baited, but you let yourself be played just in case you actually do find something interesting at the end of the clickbait rainbow.
Clickbait embodies some of the worst aspects of our monetised society. While Google, Facebook, YouTube, and all the rest, monetise our searches, relationships, video watching and sharing, and everything else we do online, at least we get what we want. It’s a vaguely symbiotic relationship. All clickbait gives you is a promise that it so rarely delivers on. It doesn’t monetise a product as much as just our general hope that things will be as shocking, amazing, terrible, or stunning as promised. The clickbait gospel is all promise, no gift.
Perhaps this is a good illustration for sin – it promises, never delivers, and then you feel stupid for giving in. But I don’t want the talk to just be a big illustration for sin. That seems like an easy way out.
I’m thinking that perhaps I’ll talk about the fact that clickbait devalues things that may be genuinely interesting, funny, touching, or sad, by saying they are unbelievable, hilarious, amazing or tragic. It means that we’re desensitised to things that may actually be momentous because in clickbait everything is momentous. For instance, how do we differentiate between one merely dumb thing a politician said and a dangerous and evil agenda that a politician is pushing when everything is given to us in the same sensational format?
I think I’ll also talk about the fact that clickbait cynically withholds good things until it can get advertising dollars out of you. “You’ll never guess number 6!” You’re only as valuable as the advertising revenue that can be gained by your continued, dissatisfied clicking. You aren’t even valuable enough to be given a good product, you are valuable only to be served substandard, often stolen, content in the hopes that you’ll earn the clickbaiters a few cents more.
Contrast this with the good news of God. Here is something that is genuinely amazing, touching, life-changing, and even, for many, unbelievable. And the good news is not that God doles out good things only as long as he can string you along while you give him what he wants, but that God has already given us the best thing, his Son, the free gift of forgiveness and life in him, before we even knew we needed him. And God is going to keep giving us good things from now until eternity. We are valuable to God for the love can lavish upon us, not for the good things we can give him. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
What’s more, with God, curiosity is rewarded! We don’t spend a lot of time in Christianity talking about the virtues of curiosity, but it seems clear God wants us to discover new things. Jesus tells us to “seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7) and promises his people the Holy Spirit who will “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Paul tells us that one day we’re going to know so much more of God than we already do. “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) In fact, the only reason why we know anything about God, his nature, and what he has done for us, is because he has revealed himself to us. This is not a God who withholds knowledge for his own gain but gives us more than we can fully comprehend, that we might know him better.
I haven’t quite figured out a fully fleshed-out theology of curiosity, but I suspect that in the new creation we’ll have an eternity to discover all the secrets of the universe, they’ll be more amazing that we can imagine, and they’ll be free to discover as God delights to show himself and his creation to his creatures.
Perhaps that’s what my clickbait talk will be about.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. – Revelation 21:1-4
As an aside, while I’m not sure if they’d want my God-bothering endorsement, Stop Clickbait do a great job on Facebook and disrupting clickbait. Give them a follow if you want quality clickbait spoilers.