When future historians look back on the first generation to grow up with Internet access, they’ll wonder why everyone started not only embracing snake oil, but actually dreaming about becoming peddlers of it.
Now, when I use the term “snake oil,” I’m not just talking about the likes of Doctor Oz and Gwyneth Paltrow; I’m referring to anyone who dishonestly claims to be offering something worthwhile. This hasn’t just been the decade of crystal-based remedies and chakra enemas, after all: We’ve seen everyone from so-called scientists to self-serving performers doing whatever they can to exploit any audiences that they can attract. These people don’t actually care about entertaining or informing so much as they care about staying in the spotlight for long enough to get a tan.
I’ll give you an example: The vast, vast majority of the videos on YouTube are shallow and formulaic, with maybe thirty seconds’ worth of content being stretched out to fill (at least) ten minutes. While many people are aware of this, far more folks are content to simply sit back and stare while an overly animated caricature of a person repeats themselves for the fifteenth time. There’s no story being told, no knowledge being shared, and no substance to speak of… but viewers trick themselves into thinking that they’re having a good time, if only because real entertainment has a somewhat similar taste to the placebo sort if you aren’t really paying attention.
Therein lies the crux of the problem: We don’t want to pay attention. As a society, we’ve adopted this mindset that effort and expertise are both bad things. Anti-intellectualism runs rampant, with people actively defending it instead of looking for opportunities to improve themselves. How many writing errors do you see in a given day, do you think? How many myths do you see being repeated, and how many facts do you see being dismissed? We’ve become a culture that glorifies laziness and ignorance, and we try to hand-wave away any attempts at pointing them out.
Worst of all, we reward the people who embody those traits.
We upvote single-sentence (or even single-word) comments on r/AskReddit. We subscribe to YouTube channels that exist for no reason other than attract views. We send the message that we’d rather embrace easy-to-understand lies than truths which might require a little bit of thought. We turn to charlatans who promise health and happiness, and we shun anyone who encourages us to actually make a damned effort for a change. In short, we encourage the mindset that snake oil – in whatever form it make take – is the most desirable substance on the planet, and that the people who peddle it should be applauded.
There have always been lazy and ignorant individuals in the world, of course.
However, this has been the first decade to give them preferential treatment.
TL;DR: The 2010s saw sales of snake oil shooting through the roof… and we keep demanding more of it.