It is the deep irony of our times that readers, often deeply educated, will shell out $30 for a meal in New York or San Francisco while paying thousands in rent, only to avoid paying a few bucks a month for a publication, let alone ten. The bulk of the internet doesn’t pay for subscriptions. People will gladly spend hours a day reading brainjunk, to avoid even the slightest expense that might improve the quality of what they are reading. If you want to consume McDonald’s, be my guest. If you want to read whatever LinkedIn calls news, go right ahead. But if you actually want to learn, to improve your mind, to improve your awareness and understanding of the world, you have to shell out. Start paying. [Danny Crichton, 2018]
Today, we eat a rich and decadent buffet of brainjunk, of useless tweets, of photos of people we don’t know, of articles that were written in ten minutes to stoke the content boiler. The dopamine cycle ensures that we keep on craving more content, the exact same dopamine cycle that makes a Happy Meal a happy meal. And nothing is enough in a world in which readers crave brainjunk at the expense of all other quality content. People want free content and they want a lot of it, and media companies have been more than happy to oblige. More articles, more videos, all cheaply made and distributed through the purveyors of brainjunk like Facebook and Twitter. Lewis D’Vorkin was chief product officer at Forbes, where he pioneered the open platform model that has juiced Forbes traffic while tarnishing that publication’s brand equity. He understood brainjunk and just how lucrative it could potentially be.