There, I’ve said it. There’s too much advice on the internet. From 10-point list posts detailing how I can become a better person (surely not possible), to cutesy infographics on how to simplify my life, I am drowning in a sea of being told how to do things better. But are the authors of these pieces - myself included - genuinely galvanised into wanting to help, or are they making up three tips out of five because this easy-to-read content will probably perform well with readers?
All personal experience is subjective, and the merit of being able to hear a single voice in a world of billions shouldn't be diminished. But isn't it all starting to feel a bit...disingenuous? Rather than embracing the opportunity to offer advice seasoned by experience, every online zine, blog and forum is awash with '10 top tips to help you get out of bed in the morning' (spoiler: just swing those legs right on out and you've done it). And whilst I understand that one of the benefits to the online writing community is precisely the sheer wealth of guidance that can be shared, the landscape appears to be changing into one that values advice for the sake of it, rather than the actual contents of what's being said.
I'm not denying that individual perspective can shed new light on an otherwise tired concept - a new Mum’s take on how to organise effectively will likely be very different to that of a uni student, for example - but if you're thinking of popping up a quick post on ‘how to feel happier in three simple steps’ and your points include ‘turn off your phone’ and ‘take a long bubble bath’, ask yourself this: are you posting because you’re passionate about the content, or are you posting it because it’s easy?
Not only easy to write (and I don’t think I’ll be crucified for saying ‘top tips’ posts are easier to pull together than meatier think-pieces or editorial lookbooks), but easier to read. I (and ironically, 80% of the internet) have spoken before about our hunger for fast, easily digestible information, and how this is having an impact on how we consume content online; if we can’t absorb it within the three minutes we’re spending on the toilet, then forget it. And familiar advice posts play into this - it’s information we’ve read and understood before, just dolled up in a new lipstick with a basket bag in tow. It’s information that we don’t have to think about too much, because we’ve already gone through the process of making sense of it before.
So why do we keep reading them? Well, in part, light relief. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is the implied guilt that accompanies “fluffy” writing, such as ManRepeller’s piece on hair accessories or my own article on improving a crappy rented bathroom. In comparison to Putin’s latest vote-rigging scandal and what-the-fuck-is-actually-happening-with-Brexit?, which velvet scrunchy or on-trend washing basket you should buy are hardly important nuggets to know, and yet this is precisely the kind of content which we return to time and time again. But we need refuge. We’re so overwhelmed by the sheer mass of constantly updating breaking news, that when we log off at 5pm or nip outside for a quick cigarette break, we want an escape. We want our mood lifted. ‘10 top tips’ posts instantly gratify our desire for wanting to feel like we’re improving our lives, whilst also offering a frivolous escape from a world of increasing shittiness, and so we devour them, greedily.
I’m not suggesting that we should rid ourselves of this tried-and-tested format once and for all, because advice posts clearly have a place and a purpose that ensures their continued success. I am, however, suggesting that we rely on them too much. When I write blog content and guest magazine articles for my freelance clients, ‘top tips’ posts are not only the easiest to pull together, but they’re also the most likely to be accepted by publishers. Why? Because their audience is the same reader on the toilet, time-poor and looking to endow one chosen website with three minutes of their golden attention.
My central gripe, I suppose, is that I feel a lot of advice is coming from those who don’t have the necessary experience or expertise to warrant giving it. Yes, yes, free speech and all that, but to me there’s something slightly uncomfortable about a 20 year old dishing out a ten step programme on how to become the best version of yourself. It’s easy to assume that because the guidance is well-written, laid out in a professional format and quote tweeted 23 times over by all of your mates that there’s some value to what is being said, but in actual fact, those ‘5 golden rules for starting the day off right’ are likely the result of a similar Google search by the author, with ideas rehashed and supporting evidence or research nowhere to be seen.
I’ll also go on the record as saying advice posts which tell you to ‘chase your dreams’ and ‘stay true to yourself’ are not advice posts at all, they are just a series of Tumblr quotes written out in black and white with no suggestion for tangible action whatsoever. They are the online equivalent to “work really hard and see what happens”.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy advice posts (I’ve written a fair few myself - this one is my favourite), it’s just that I feel I’m drowning in them and I’m pissed off that I don’t have anything else to read. I’m not clamouring for extensive think-pieces only, because I too have three-minute toilet sessions that I need to fill, but please let’s stop relying on careless and poorly-sourced pointers for the sake of a quick post (myself included, whole-heartedly and absolutely).
Write that ‘6 tips for spring cleaning you life’ article if an idea has sparked a party in your pants, but maybe think twice if you’re struggling for a fourth point and relying on similar pieces by other writers to help you out. Ask yourself: do I have something valuable to offer to this discussion, or do I just think that this fits in with the current trend of breaking everything down into tiny bite-sized pieces? Is it your own advice, or someone else’s? Do you actually even give a shit about what you’re saying?
I’m no fool (fingers crossed ~lol~); with the direction our internet habits are moving in, and the demise of many a much-loved magazine title, short, snappy, easily-digestible nuggets of content are ultimately going to reign supreme. Ten top tips will become eight and then five and then three, until eventually we’re all going to be flapping about the ~ o N e G o L d E n R u L e ~ for waking up on the right side of the bed. Our attention spans are dwindling, and the content we consume will reflect that, but until then, can we stop telling everyone to put their phone down an hour before bed because nobody fucking does it, especially those of us dishing out the directions.
Until next time lovelies x
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