A pop culture Internet site recently had a story on a new service through the live streaming website Twitch. That service is “social eating” which is primarily people live streaming eating food. That is not an entirely new idea as mok-bang videos have been coming from South Korea for several years which is essentially the same thing. The difference from my perspective is that when I heard about mok-bang videos from Korea, I thought that was a bizarre waste of time and I wondered what motivation anyone would have to watch the videos. However, reading about a possible new wave of this type of stupidity seems all the more puzzling when the rest of my day was spent reading about recent terror attacks and the incessant insanity of the current US election cycle. As I pondered this point, I considered that maybe the rampant inanity of some Internet culture might be-be proportional to the terrible things happening in the world. In other words, is the desire to waste one’s time in such pointless ways a reaction to a post-9/11 world with legitimate fears about terrorist groups like ISIS?
My theory is that cognitive dissonance is at the forefront of absurd Internet culture. Cognitive dissonance is when one tries to reconcile incompatible attitudes and feels anxiety from it. We want consistency, and we will engage in behavioral and cognitive trickery with ourselves in pursuit of that consistency. To alleviate that stress, we seek things in the world to disprove it is the scary place the news is telling us that it is.
The more inane we can make our lives, the less we can believe we live in such as terrifying world. The idea that groups exist that believe (or at least profess) that murdering gays is compassionate, and women are truly less than men is so alien and incomprehensible to so many of us; it seems impossible that some may hold such beliefs. As such, we cognitively are aware of that fact but on some level do not believe it. Maybe for some, spending minutes or hours watching someone eat live over the Internet functions a reminder that if the world can allow people to do such inane things, then all the horrors we hear about every day are less real in some sense.
I want to clarify; I do not care if people enjoy watching people eating over the Internet. I think it is a staggering waste of time, but I am certain others would probably find things that I do boring or a waste of time as well. However, the sheer meaninglessness of such activities has to be some reaction to being afraid of the world. I suspect that the world has become a disproportionately ridiculous place not necessarily because of the Internet but because of the living in a world where terrorist threats are very real. Drawing a picture or making a joke can get people killed.
The reason that clickbait works so well is that we constantly need to keep ourselves distracted. If we can keep reminding ourselves of the absurd and truly useless things, then the bad things lurking around the corner seem less real.