How to get the most out of time-wasting content (or avoid it altogether)

I’ve noticed over the years that my mom and my grandfather both forward me a lot of questionable articles, videos, and other information. Sometimes there is a nugget of value there, but it’s usually buried beneath a mountain of time-wasting BS. 6 pages of “you won’t believe what this amazing secret is!” or a 30 minute video embedded in a page without playback controls so you can’t skip ahead, etc. By whatever stroke of luck I have developed a pretty good BS detector over time, as well as a set of habits and tools I use to test and engage with this kind of content in the most efficient ways I can. So I thought it would be interesting to try to codify these strategies of identification and management of time-wasting content.

Over time I’ll try to provide some specific examples. For now this is just a seed…

I have various tools I use when I want to get information out of those kinds of videos/articles, including plugins that let me speed up any video (because another slimy thing a lot of these people do is they embed videos on a web page so you can’t easily see how long it is, etc.), or skimming a long article. First, it’s helpful to get a sense of warning signs. Here are a few that stand out to me:

  • Dramatic-sounding titles, promises, etc., but with little real info
    • Often posed as a question, like “Do you know how much your cat’s health could cost you?”
    • Or posed as a vague provocation, like “You won’t believe this one thing that will improve your health”
  • Very long articles that don’t clearly state their point early on.
    • A well-written article or essay will usually tell you what it’s about early, then go into details and supporting evidence.
    • Time-wasting ones usually spend many paragraphs talking about how bad things are if you don’t do this thing they’re suggesting (but not telling you what it is yet).
    • They spend a lot of time building up fear or anticipation to know what their secret is, rather than just telling you up-front.
  • Web pages that require a lot of clicking buttons, slideshows, etc. to get to content
  • Videos that don’t show how long they are and/or don’t let you skip forward in the video.
  • Videos not posted to YouTube. This is a common tactic for preventing you from knowing the length or skipping forward, as above.
  • A clear focus on a particular product rather than a more general scientific discovery, medical insight, etc.
  • An insinuation that they alone have special knowledge that no one else – or few other people – have and therefore scarcity of information that they control (and can thus get you to read their article or watch their video).