The Internet is determined to squash literacy at any price. The reason is simple and obvious. Writing is a very efficient way to communicate information; videos are not. Efficiency is fatal to content providers’ profits. If you can read the information you need instantly, then you will not linger on the page. But if you are forced to watch a video that takes a definite amount of time, then you will be on that page for that time, and perhaps you will fall into a coma and your mouse-clicking muscles will contract and you will click on an ad or a Patreon link or another video. This is what the content providers refer to as “engagement.”

For example, Dr. Boli wanted to know how to get the € symbol on a Macintosh keyboard, because he uses a Macintosh keyboard layout, though not on a Macintosh. (Anyone can use a Macintosh keyboard on a Macintosh—that’s no accomplishment at all.) So we call up Startpage, a search engine that gives us Google results anonymously, so that we see what Google would give us if it had no idea who we were, and we type “euro symbol macintosh keyboard.”

The first result, enclosed in a box to let us know that it is the recommended answer to our query, is a video.

Screenshot provided for the fair-usey purposes of criticism, etc.

This is a short video, only one minute and five seconds long. Eleven seconds into the video, the video producer says “Let’s get started” and then begins his explanation at the 12-second mark. So one-fifth of the video is introduction.

By a curious coincidence, “Let’s get started” is exactly the same number of syllables as “Shift-option-2,” which is the answer we were looking for. It took one second to say “Let’s get started,” so we can assume it would take the same amount of time to give the answer without the useless fluff. But a one-second video would be silly, wouldn’t it?

Yet the information could be absorbed in less than a second if it were presented in written form:


Now, what is the rest of the video about? We still have 48 seconds to go, after all.

Well, our videographer gives us two methods of producing the euro character. The first is the painfully roundabout way of pressing control-command-spacebar, which brings up a symbol list, then clicking on a “small icon” to expand the window, then clicking on “Currency symbols,” and then finding the euro sign, and then choosing the font you want from the “Font Variation” panel. Yes, this is all much easier than shift-option-2. Are we a little sarcastic today? No, not at all. Dr. Boli? Sarcastic?

All that takes us to the 48-second mark, at which point we are finally told that the keyboard shortcut is shift-option-2. From second 55 on is just the standard boilerplate begging us to subscribe to the creator’s channel, where presumably we’ll find similarly informative videos (“How to type Letter H on MAC,” “How to make Space Between Words on MAC”).

In what way is a video better than displaying the answer “Shift-option-2” as the top search result? In only one way: since Google supplies the results, Google leads us to YouTube, a Google property, where it can now try to persuade us to watch “Otter Carries His Little Friend Up the Stairs with One Paw” or “A baby hears Pavarotti sing ‘Nessun Dorma’ for the first time ever.” Bing! We’re engaged!—Oops—sorry—we accidentally slipped and used the B-word, but you get the idea.

Content providers prefer to have us sit still and shut up and watch a video. This establishes a certain expectation among the younger generations. In ten years or so, it will be mandated that all essential information be presented that way. Road signs, instead of instantly recognizable symbols, will carry little animations showing the proper way of yielding to oncoming traffic or the dreadful consequences of taking this curve too fast. Fire extinguishers will have color displays to play the ten-minute video that demonstrates how to aim the extinguisher at the base of the flames.

This is how literacy will die: not because we the people will lose interest in reading, but because the capitalists who control access to the information we want will refuse to let us read. Gradually we will accustom ourselves to the idea that we do not control how we take in information. Our masters will unscrew the tops of our heads and pour in the information they think we ought to have in measured doses. It will not be necessary to prohibit reading. It will simply be made more and more inconvenient to find information in written form, and our native laziness will do the rest of the work.


  1. Maypo says:

    Like adding mint candies drops to a bottle of cola, the good Doctor has created a fountain of sympathy gushing from my peeved heart.

  2. The Shadow says:

    I didn’t realize you wrote horror stories, Dr. Boli. This is an all-too-plausibly chilling dystopia.

  3. Reepicheep says:

    The beauty of words is that a bletherskate may opt to take as long as a video to communicate a simple complaint, but pack in many more jokes than a video could. Kinda like this essay.

  4. von Hindenburg says:

    Have you used DuckDuckGo, Doctor? If so, what do you find preferable about Startepage?

    I’ll admit that I do, on balance, enjoy the amount of information that is now conveyed by video because, while I might read an article about, say, the struggles of Pittsburgh’s Astrobotic to get its lander to the moon, in 5 minutes, while a video takes 12, I can listen to that video while I’m doing laundry, mowing the grass, or sitting through a Corpus Christi homily.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      One thing that made Dr. Boli give up on DuckDuckGo after a while was a bug that made it impossible to search for an exact phrase. For example, two years ago he searched for “act of thanksgiving” (like that, in quotation marks), and on the first page of results these things came up:

      40 Hilarious Thanksgiving Jokes That Everyone at the…

      Megan Thee Stallion – Wikipedia

      Fear on Cape Cod as Sharks Hunt Again

      The documentation said that you could search for an exact phrase by putting it in quotation marks, but a little further research found that there was an outstanding bug that had outstood for years and never been squashed, the result of which was that the exact-phrase function simply didn’t work. But that was two years ago. We tried the same phrase again today, and it looks as though the bug is finally gone.

      It is also true that Google has more and better search results than anyone else. For some esoteric searches, Google finds results that DuckDuckGo and its partners miss.

      Startpage buys Google’s results but anonymizes them, which is useful when you need to know what Google would find if it were not catering to your personal prejudices.

      An interesting alternative is Mojeek, a British search engine that uses its own crawlers. Startpage and DuckDuckGo buy results from other search engines. Mojeek seems to find fewer but sometimes usefully different results.

  5. Belfry Bat says:

    I contend that literacy and aurality are found ascendant in rather distinct segments of the general population (and idiocy is rife among them both); the Doctor’s present difficulty arising rather from The hope of some clever-boots that insight and profit (mostly profit) might be made to flow between these segments… so, videos are made text-searchable.

    But this division of the world has naught of novelty; as long ago as the IntraBellum, some one coined a curious contraction for a certain Annual Celebration… coming with a se’enight, if I recall. The Doctor himself has written about not being able to find out WHO, and the reason he can’t identify the guilty party is that the guilty couldn’t identify himself either, neither thinking he’d done anything nor bothering to write it down. Because it wasn’t a literate sort of thing to say, anyway! But since literate-ish person heard it, eventually, and DID write it as having been heard. But by then it was too late.

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