Friday, August 29, 2008

Social Networked Humor: Serious Threat To Productivity!

Humanity evolved in an environment of physical and oral humor. No printed humor (except perhaps a few cave drawings), no video humor and above all, no internet humor.

As a result, we have built into us the capacity to remain productive with the occasional bon mot from co-workers, looking forward to an outrageously funny slip-and-fall or other bit of physical humor as needed. The humor supply was limited because it could be distributed only face-to-face. While the total supply of humor worldwide was probably pretty big, you had access only to that in your immediate vicinity and thus could still get some work done.

The internet vastly increases the accessible supply of humor. Someone makes a funny in Austria and they can enjoy it in Australia. With the collapse of barriers to its distribution, the humor accessible to the typical office worker expands more rapidly than anyone can consume it.

Dropping those barriers also increases the absolute supply of humor (to be distinguished from the accessible supply.) When humor distribution was physically limited, the ROI on humor was low because the humorist could be rewarded with a smile or a laugh from a small number of people. However, the internet means millions of persons can enjoy your humor, vastly increasing your ROI and therefore incentive to produce humor. There may be some humorists who can be funny only with a physically present audience, but on the evidence, social networks reward humorists well enough to keep them being funny.

A further accelerant is the ease with which humor can be ranked and searched by quality; this both increases the ROI to the humorist and the virulence of the most easily accessible humor. Half of everything is below average (...let's not quibble between "average' and "media" please...) and pre-internet, the best and most time-wasting humor was presented amid a helpful buffer of dregs. Enough jokes falling flat will send anyone back to work.

However, internet humor is frequently presented with rating tools to separate the good from the garbage. While the quantity of worthless, uninteresting humor available has doubtless increased, rating systems make it easier to find great, attention-grabbing, really interesting humor that chews up your day entirely ... and because it has been purified of the buffering dreck, it's harder to avoid or to stop consuming.

Finally, the social aspect of sharing humor can hardly be overstated. In your immediate physical surroundings, there may be no-one who appreciates your SOH but you can get appreciation and validation (...or rejection and abuse, if you prefer...) easily on the internet.

Humor is like carbohydrates: necessary to life, but harmful in excess. We evolved with a limited supply of each in our environment; they were a lot of work to gather; we need them buffered by husks and stuff. But today we get an unlimited supply of humor and carbos, laced with weird variant like high-fructose corn syrup that persuade us we're having fun while they're killing us, or at least killing our productive day.

I hope that I have killed the joy in internet humor so you can get back to work. But if you insist on consuming this plentiful, purified time killing substance, try these ... and be warned:
  • The canonical lolCats site:
  • FailBlog: a variation on lolCats, with photos & videos of failures
  • lolCats Bible: wikiHumor takes lolCats in a whole new direction
  • Webcomics: in case you don't waste enough time reading the comics in your newspaper. Note the "latest updated" feature - so you can focus on the 11,000 most recently updated strips. (Since there are over 86,000 seconds in a day, you have plenty of time to stay current!)
  • Clientcopia: Work anecdotes. Contribute your own and ruin the productivity of others!

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