Thursday, October 16, 2014

Composite Spoiler

**Warning! This post contains no actual spoilers**

Let’s say you just finished watching the season premiere of Walking Dead, and it was totally awesome. Your natural reaction, like any reasonably-social human being, is to blast your love of it out to the interwebs so that you can share your feelings on it communally.
In the distant past, we satisfied this impulse through emails, instant messenger, or in show-specific fan-forums. In the distant distant past, we talked to real-life people who were actually in the room with us.
This helped contain the spread of deadly, spoiler-laden conversations, making it unlikely that we’d spoil a show for someone (or, at least, for more than one person at a time).
Nowadays, though, most of our communication takes place on a handful of large, open social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Google+. That means that when we go to our respective devices and spill our spoiler-y guts, we’re not just talking to our friends who’ve seen the show – we’re broadcasting it to everyone, regardless of whether they've watched it or not. So if you're like me and don't see shows until a day or two after they air, your only chance of avoiding spoilers is to cut off all communication and live like it's the End Times.

Now, before I sound too angry at people who post spoilers, let me say that I absolutely believe that television - like other art forms - is best when it’s also social. Discussing events, themes, characters, and plot threads not only enhances our experience, but deepens our understanding of the human condition.
Spoilers, though, drastically reduce our raw enjoyment of things - and I can back this up with science. See, our brains' chemical responses are based on our expectations. When the brain encounters something new and exciting, it releases dopamine - the chemical that causes us to feel joy or satisfaction - but when it gets exactly what it expects, it does nothing (this is why the funniest jokes are the ones with the most unexpected answers).

Spoilers destroy our sense of enjoyment on the most primal level, because now we know how things turn out. There's no more surprise, and no more dopamine. In a show like Walking Dead – where much of the tension comes from not knowing whether a character will survive or get chewed to bits by zombies – even the slightest piece of information can diminish the experience.

A decade ago, avoiding spoilers wasn't that hard. People watched TV shows as they aired, or much later on DVD. They didn't communicate over social networks, but on more limited media, like email or clay tablets. Now, though, we've hit this weird point where both our primary means of communication AND our main way of consuming TV shows have changed drastically. People no longer need to watch episodes as they air, while at the same time, they’re wired into a massive network that contains all of their friends at once. And, as demonstrated by anthropologists from the University of Netflix, some people like to communicate their excitement about an episode before others are ready to hear it.

We've known all this for a long time, of course, but we still haven't established a solid etiquette for how not to spoil people. Instead, we’ve settled for a crude workaround: we try to be cryptic.

By talking in code, or holding back some info, we assume that only someone who’s watched the episode will get what we mean. But we’re terribly, terribly wrong. As wrong as the people who thought that that one guy wasn’t going to get killed in that one episode (you know the one I mean).

Because instead of just one sneakily-worded post, we get dozens.
And each one gives us a piece of the puzzle.
I call this a composite spoiler: no one person has spoiled the show, but collectively, everyone has. It’s kind of like that old World War II saying: ‘Loose Lips Sink Ships.’ You may not think you told the Germans where the convoy was headed, but because they pieced together info from a whole bunch of people, they were able to hunt it down and sink it.

Now, am I saying that spoiling a show is like helping the Nazis? Yes. That's a good way to think of it.

Hopefully, though, Facebook will get wise pretty soon and start including a 'spoiler' feature to let us censor our posts (I'm kind of surprised they haven't done this already, since it's been a staple of online forums since the '90s). In the meantime, though, we're forced to survive alone in the wilderness, keeping our wits about us and hoping we don't get infected.
Want to see more of what I post? Like me on Facebook!

Or, check out my other posts:

   Five Awesome Facts About The Coast Guard

    Different Eras Of Our Lives
    Don't Get Pepper Sprayed (It Sucks)

    Is It A Mountain? (A Guide 
     For People Who Aren't From the Northwest)
 The Five Most Irritating Social Media Strategies


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