I will readily admit that I once nursed a habit I wasn’t proud of. I usually made sure I was on my own when I indulged. I said to myself, after ten minutes or so, I would stop. One more, I would tell myself, then I’m done. I am, of course, talking about my Sidebar of Shame Addiction.
There is always that slightly unpromising title that nevertheless pulls you in: ooh look – Nigella “sizzled” in red yesterday and it really showed off her “curvy” figure. Kate Middleton wore baby blue and bent down to speak and smile at a small child. That woman with nice hair from that TV show I watched the Christmas special of that one time has gone on holiday and is wearing a bikini. This is stuff I need to know. And besides, what else do I use that useful “Open in Another Tab” function for?
But the truth is, there is a strange, languid addictive feeling that comes with perusing the Sidebar of Shame (oh – I mean the “Don’t Miss” section). There is little to no effort involved in reading a news story that is mostly a presentation of hi-res photos rather than a well-written journalistic piece of writing. The bold captions underneath each photograph summarise the previous paragraph in a judgemental single sentence, so you only need to focus on the big bold writing in order to get the gist of the story. Of course, once the article is finished, a quick look at the comments section will cement your opinions on the matter at hand: think that woman has a patchy tan mark on the back of her knee? Somebody will have spotted that and pointed it out, maybe accompanied with a lofty conclusion of their view of current society. At some point there will probably be a circular argument that ends with blaming David Cameron and his private education. Becky from Wigan thinks that this scantily-clad female is on a downward spiral to drug addiction and eventually early death. Barry from Stoke, after choosing, clicking on and presumably “reading” the article, loftily congratulates “DM” on their journalistic abilities and asks the terribly original and essentially pointless question: “Who are these people?”
It used to feel so easy to coast through fifteen minutes or more just lazily clicking. Why? I have never and do not watch reality TV, yet I’d find myself spending five minutes of my time on a story about a reality celebrity – who I don’t know the second name of – almost stepping in a puddle (luckily later in the article we are reminded of the real reason for its existence: the constant worry about her recent boob job making her look fatter). It is lazy entertainment, where the reader is not required to do anything apart from judge those they are reading about. It is more effort to stop than to carry on. You are stuck in a circular cycle. But I promise you. With a little help – you can. You can avoid that after-indulgence haze, the come-down (“Why did I just spend 23 minutes reading about that? How is knowledge of that man’s tight trousers aiding me in life? Who am I?”).
As soon as your mind starts to wander, and you feel like perusing something interesting, expand your horizons. Instead of looking at pictures of people you will probably never meet at angles that make them look as fat as they possibly can, there are so many other things that you will probably enjoy more. I’m not telling anybody they have to restyle their entire lives. Sometimes you want to lounge about and sit on the Internet. But I curbed my ritual of reading the Sidebar of Shame by finding other things to read and look at. The obvious answer is reading about the news regarding current affairs, rather than learning more about the marriage problems of the Kardashians. If you want a more vegetative state, try Stumbleupon; although hit and miss in some instances, you can tailor it to your own interests (try getting inspired by the cooking section: even if they are ridiculously well-photographed and often involve ingredients that are difficult to say, never mind source – always a good source of unrealistic motivation. The hair section is also impressive in its complexity). A personal favourite, and good for if you like knowledge but not learning, is Cracked.com. It’s like Listverse (another recommend) but more personable and with inappropriate jokes. (Try any article with the words “Easter Egg” or “Mystery” in the title). If you want to push yourself and enjoy quizzes and trivia, try Sporcle. It is a little USA-centred in some ways, and sometimes hilariously difficult, but you have the satisfying feeling of being a tiny bit wiser once you’ve spent half an hour there. You might be better at Pointless by the end of it too.
My last recommendation would be online shopping – or, more specifically, online looking. Spending time on deciding what you really want can stop you from spending too much money on a quick purchase (from experience) – and besides, you do need another reason for that multiple tab function now that you’re not stacking up the stories about Cheryl’s new hairdo.