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All your braincells are belong to us - 2014, July 14 / IDEAS

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Sorry if you were taken in by the recent solar roads boondoggle.
solar freakin roads

It's said to be one of the characteristics of civilisations in decline that they experience a surge of magical thinking as they approach their collapse. Magical thinking (of the 'Law of Attraction' variety) is one example, but the credulous, religious worship of technology is another. An example is the 'Solar FREAKIN Roads' video, which went viral a few weeks ago.

The premise of this boondoggle is patent nonsense: to replace the existing asphalt road surfaces of the US with solar panels, and to drive on them. Several great videos have been made in response, utterly debunking this fad.

Solar FREAKIN Roadways, are they real?


And two pages of debunking here and here.

And as you can see in my image above - those awful drawings are created by the solar freakin roads promoters to represent their view of their own audience: a gang of drooling cretins. And the audience (being actual drooling cretins) swallowed this, and forked over 2.2 million dollars in gratitude.

The video achieved its remarkable success by appealing directly to the emotions of the viewers, with LOUD and FREAKIN narration and visuals - by-passing any logical thought processes that the audience might possess. If you generate an emotional reaction in the viewer, you have them. An attack on the solar roads will be seen as an attack on the viewer. Shake them a little harder, and quite a few will hand over money to pay for the silicosis highway.

It's a winning formula, previously seen in the farcical 'Kony 2012' campaign. In that case, take a complex story, and reduce it to the emotional reaction of the film-maker's own son. Ignoring the creep factor, Kony's victims become secondary to the effect of the story on our emotions. This succeeded in generating the facile and temporary enthusiasm of Westerners, but when Kony's actual victims saw the movie they rioted in disgust.

A recent study suggests that the brain can't reason and empathise at the same time...which is why anyone cynically attempting to generate clicks has to create or promise emotional catharsis in the viewer.

The recent Facebook emotion-contagion experiment outraged people, yet this has been going on blatantly for a while now, in the form of clickbait links from and

I've been keeping a collection of bookmarks of the more nauseating headlines. The most infantile aspect is that the headline isn't about the events or the ideas behind the story, but your reaction to the story. YOU are the headline, because the story is really about you.

A more detailed account of the method: Headlines so enticing you can’t resist the click.
Here’s Upworthy’s secret formula for click-able headlines:
Outrage + Uplift + Mystery = Clicks

Whether you see Upworthy’s headlines as manipulative parlor tricks or clever journalism is up to you, but writing engaging headlines and social posts is incredibly useful to anyone trying to promote themselves online. Why not use Upworthy’s headline formula to better engage your fanbase? After all, we all want clicks too, right? We want our fans to like and share our posts and open our emails and click on our links. How can we use this magic formula to increase our fan engagement?

Well, let’s try to think of some examples of how we can use Upworthy’s technique to promote our own content, products, and events.

Let’s say I’m about to send out a newsletter about an upcoming concert. Normally, I might use a headline like “Don’t forget: We’re playing at the Red Room on Monday.” It’s not a horrible headline. It’s honest and direct, right? But wouldn’t it be better if I could write something that would undoubtedly get some more engagement, increase email opens, and ultimately increase my concert attendance? I guess I’d need to add some outrage, uplift, and mystery.

A few examples:

Our drummer’s evil plans this Friday may leave you in stitches. You’ll never guess why.

You won’t believe the insanity we have planned. All will be revealed this Friday.

A band forced to do unspeakable acts in the name of entertainment. Find out why.

Well, these headlines are certainly more engaging. As you can see I applied Upworthy’s formula:

Our drummer’s evil plans [outrage] leave you in stitches [uplift]. And you’ll never guess why. [mystery]
Imagine 1941, in upworthy style:

"Japan just bombed Pearl Harbour. At first I was terrified, then I was outraged, but when FDR spoke I was inspired".

Remember the furore about the Facebook emotional contagion experiment? These sites continue to practice these sleazy techniques on an unsuspecting mass audience, pushing their emotional buttons, and making a fortune in the process.

The FB experiment was trivial in comparison.

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