Friday, April 17, 2015

Clickbait is evil!

Anyone who has taken one of my Scrum classes knows that I believe that multitasking is evil! I have come to realize that clickbait is evil too.

Why? For the same reason. Clickbait, like multitasking, destroys productivity.  At least for my own purposes, I have decided do something about it, and I am wondering if other people feel the same way.

What is clickbait? Let's say you an article open a reputable site, like See all those links on the right side, like Opinion, More Top Stories, Promoted Stories, More from CNN? That's click bait. My guess is 1/3rd of any given web pages consists of catchy headlines whose sole purpose is to get you to spend more time on their site (or maybe, to cash in on Cost-per-Click syndication schemes, to get you go to some other site). By the time you get 2/3rd down the page, 100% of the content is usually clickbait.

What is evil?

What do I mean by evil? Evil things are bad for you. Like weeds in the garden or corrupt politicians, you'll never get rid of evil entirely, but if you don't keep the weeds under control, you won't have a garden any more. So we need to keep evil things in check, lest you suffer the consequences. In this case the consequences is massive amounts of wasted time (at least for me it is)!

Why is Multitasking Evil?

I have long known that if you have two goals, working them in parallel slows you down. If goal A takes a month, and goal B takes a month, then if you work on A and B in parallel, it will take you at least 2 months before either goal is finished and probably longer. So focusing on one thing at a time usually gives you better results. This is why focus is a core value of Scrum. 

It turns out the situation with multitasking is much worse than I thought.

I recently attended a talk by Prof Lutz Jäncke, the neuropsychologist at the ETH, on why teenagers are the way the are. (The short answer: they are not evil, they are drawn that way. They will be people again when their brains have finished developing -- sometime around 20 years old. But I digress.)

Listening to a neuropsychologist for an hour was very challenging! My brain was very tired after his talk, but one point really stuck out:

Multitasking makes you worse at multitasking!

To process information effectively, we need to filter irrelevant information. By responding to every stimulus that comes in, we lose the ability to filter junk.

He also asked, have you ever gone to do something on the Internet, lost track of what you are doing and then wasted a tremendous amount of time? You bet! Every day! Why is that? Clickbait. Catchy headlines and dramatic pictures pique my curiosity to send me to the next page.

I realized this was true, and I am now trying to turn down the interruptions on my computer and other devices.

Using Adblock Plus to fight clickbait

I have used ABP for a long time to block most ads. But the standard filters only target ads, not clickbait. I discovered you can not only block links, but you can block specific HTML elements. After a bit of experimenting with the block element feature, I was able to filter the clickbait sections of the news and entertainment sites I visit most. 

I was amazed at the difference in how much less clutter and fewer distractions I encountered!

Do you have this problem? Would you like to use my filter list? I don't know if it is worth packaging these filters for distribution. Or of there isn't a filter set somewhere that addresses this problem. So I have simply published this list and installation instructions on as a google doc: It's still pretty short, but if you send me additions, I will integrate them. 

Clickbait is evil. I believe reducing clickbait will be good for my performance, and it probably will be for yours as well. If you install it, please put out a tweet like this:

"Just installed @peterstev's clickbait filter! #clickbaitisevil!"