Autoplay Wants To Eat Your Humanity

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about moving, headlines, the 65-game NBA rule, performative cartoon hating, and more.

Your letters:

Chad:

I love to roll through music videos on YouTube. My problem is that while I’m searching if I hover over one option for like 1.7 seconds it starts to autoplay, which totally fucks with my vibe and derails whatever greatness I was onto. This familiar to you? 

Aren’t we all? The scourge of autoplay has migrated from banner ads on your favorite websites to every video platform you use. This is an acute problem for me whenever I’m fucking around on YouTube, because it’ll often autoplay another video right after the video I’m watching has finished. I didn’t ask for that shit, YouTube. You don’t even know what I was planning to watch next. I probably wasn’t going to watch another YouTube at all! I was probably gonna go pet the dog! Give me a breather before you go forcing more shit on me.

This is the greater problem with autoplay. The original appeal of the internet was that you had full control over how you consumed it. You could read whatever websites you wanted, watch whatever videos you wanted, and keep your contact with strange assholes to a minimum. The modern internet has been re-engineered to deprive you of that agency. That’s why autoplay causes a primal reaction in me. Once I open Netflix, a stopwatch goes off in my head. I can’t linger on any show for too long or else BOOM! Suddenly I’m watching the opening scene of Griselda even though NO ONE wants to watch that. Even if I have the TV muted, I still recoil at autoplay.

I know that autoplay here to stay for all of the nefarious corporate reasons, but I don’t like having something that I’m supposed to have full control over—that I PAY to have full control over—being commandeered by a fucking computer hellbent on making me watch Suits. It’s like being rudely interrupted at the dinner table. Leave me the fuck alone. You already have my money.

Chris:

What’s your stance on watching animation as an adult? I hear some folks say they, “don’t watch cartoons,” which is bewildering to me. Inject Blue Eye Samurai and Scavengers Reign straight into my veins. 

This is the reason I turned on Bill Simmons a couple of decades ago. I can’t remember if it was on his podcast or in print, but he essentially said he never watched The Simpsons because he didn’t watch cartoons. I knew a kid like that in college. His name was Joel, and he was a complete dipshit. “Cartoons are for kids” is a form of bro virtue signaling: telling people that you’re too old and wise and manly to distract yourself with such nonsense. I know exactly what kind of guy you are if you’re proud of yourself for deliberately ignoring entire genres of art.

Yeah but Drew, you hate country music, and anime, and comic books.

Well yeah but I don’t BRAG about it. Except the country music part. I’m proud to hate country music.

Brian:

The NBA instituted a 65-game rule as a way to combat load management, because apparently every single fan at every single game is a dad who has saved up for months working in a factory so his loser kid can see Steph Curry for the first time. I think the rule is absolute garbage, so my question is: what if every player in the NBA just calls the league’s bluff? How many top players in the league not making the 65-game threshold would it take for them to consider rescinding the rule?

You couldn’t get NBA players to buy in on that plot because they have too much money at stake when it comes to contract bonuses tied to postseason awards. I guarantee that Adam Silver and his minions held 500 Zoom calls to nail down that 65 number. It’s just enough games to feel like a full season of play, but also low enough that missing more than the 17 allotted personal days becomes detrimental to your team’s chances. It’s a nasty little rule, and every player in the league right now is already complaining openly about it, especially since it may have ruined Joel Embiid’s season, and the entire Sixers’ season by extension. I’d tell you that the union will make a stink about this in the offseason, but they just agreed to put it into the CBA last offseason. You jackasses. You shit for brains. What, did you ask a doctor to surgically remove your foresight before you signed this deal?

To a certain extent, I understand why the NBA forced this on the players. Brian up above joked about dads saving up for months for a chance to bring their kid to see Steph Curry live in the flesh, but those tickets really do cost a mint. I’d be pissed too if I had unwittingly purchased tickets to the one game Steph decided to bail on. But playing an NBA game—just one—is exhausting. It’s so exhausting, in fact, that we aren’t able to comprehend it. Think about the most tired you’re ever been. Now think about what it would be like if all of your joints were dislocated simultaneously. That’s how it would feel if you or I were forced to play an entire NBA game.

Now imagine feeling that way 82 times a season, and God knows how many more after that if you make the playoffs. Chris Bosh is a world class athlete, and he said that NBA games were so tiring that opposing players would agree to go easy on one another when they could afford to do it. It’s not like being filthy rich makes you suddenly immune to fatigue. No human body is designed to withstand the rigors of professional basketball, and sleep deprivation is already endemic among NBA players. Many of these players need games off, for their sake and your own.

Also, as Embiid’s injury just proved, a lot of them need the games off for more than just rest. If I pull a hammy and I’m right at the 65-game cutoff line, suddenly I have to decide whether or not I should play a game that I would otherwise sit out? That’s horseshit. We need to ditch the rule, and the only way that’ll happen is if NBA owners have a change of heart about it. Or if the players stage a wildcat strike that LeBron James doesn’t sabotage this time around.

Peter:

Would you be in favor of eliminating the salary cap in football? I think a team that drafts a superstar should be able to waive a percentage of their cap hit once they come off their rookie deal.

I’m philosophically against any salary cap, because it puts a hard ceiling on how much players, who drive all the revenue behind pro sports, are entitled to earn. Also, as the Chiefs just proved, parity in the NFL is a quiet illusion. You’re supposed to think that the existence of a cap means that your team always has a chance. And yet dynasties remain the norm and there sit the Jets, stewing in their own filth.

Also, it sucks when you lose one of your favorite players simply because the cap can’t accommodate them. I never get as attached to my own team’s players as I used to. That’s a function of age, but it’s also due to the fact that I know how unlikely it is that they’ll stick around for very long. My loyalty to my team is resolute, but my loyalty to individual players has been worn down to the nub. I don’t like this about myself. I’d rather be a naive little shit, crying my eyes out because Player X got traded away for a third-round pick. I’d rather love players for themselves and not their cap value. Instead, I’ve been conditioned to plan for getting rid of them out in my head, before they’re even gone. Because rosters are ever-shifting, I’m never satisfied with the roster I currently have. This is the salary cap’s fault. It’s made me a worse sports fan.

But it also means that my team could randomly win their division and lose a wild card game in any given year, and that’s so cool!

Christopher:

A co-worker retired two weeks ago. She left a nice golf umbrella in her office and it’s still there. When is it okay to claim it?

Right now! Snatch that shit! The key is that, once you take it, never bring it back to the office. Use it at home. Use it when you go shopping on a rainy day. Use it for golfing. But don’t bring the retired/dead lady’s umbrella back to where she left it, otherwise you’ll get the stinkeye from some tight-ass who used to eat lunch with her.

Shane:

Do you think it’s a good practice to have clickbait article headlines to anger people into clicking the article, even if there’s a disconnect between headline and article? Or should headlines be genuine? I tend stop visiting if they do too much of the former.

Let me take you inside the sausage factory for a moment. Back when I worked at Deadspin, we used a social media publishing automator called SocialFlow. You could input any working headline into SocialFlow and a little gauge (picture the NYT’s Election Night needle) predicted how that headline would fare in terms of user engagement. These predictions weren’t always spot on, in part because our traffic back then depended so heavily on a Facebook algorithm so inscrutable that even people at Facebook didn’t understand how it worked.

Nevertheless, we had an ad-driven business model, which meant that every click mattered. So headlines mattered. This remains true over at SFGate, where I have a column every week. I write a draft, and then my editors and I go back and forth over what headline will get the most attention but also suit the content of the post. This is not an easy balance to strike, and sometimes I have to give up and just let the editors gather in a separate channel to hammer out a headline without my input. I have no problem with this because I’ve been blogging for nearly 20 years and still have no firm grasp on what posts will blow up and which will not. But I want my shit to be read by a lot of people. All writers not named Salinger do.

This means that every headline is, to a certain extent, clickbait. This is less true of subscription-based outlets (like this one), but I still want my Defector posts to go viral, so I still try to think of headlines from a “Would I click this?” angle. For every Funbag column, I go back through every entry and try to sort out which one should lead off the column. How do I decide? Clicks, that’s how.

I’m hardly the only respectable writer (stop laughing) to have this mindset. And of course, the Times’ op-ed section is a wasteland of snooty, trolljob headlines like, “Why We Can’t Ignore Nikki Haley Just Yet.” So it’s up to you, the web-literate adult, to know when a headline is clickbait but still worthwhile, and when it’s obvious chumbox shit like, “17 Celebrities You Didn’t Realize Were British.” You have to consider the host site, the byline, and the subject matter. I don’t wave off entire sites if they indulge in the practice, because it’s a virtual necessity for so many of them. I point, I click, and then I pray. Nature of the beast.

HALFTIME!

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Carl:

Where do you stand on rinsing rice before you cook it? Personally, I think the practice is ridiculous, but I can’t dream up a conspiracy to explain who would benefit from having every YouTube chef telling me I’m going to hell if I don’t rinse my rice.

I have no interest in rinsing rice, but we had a friend nearly die from sepsis due to eating bad rice. Ever since, she’s mandated that we wash all of our rice before cooking it so that we don’t experience spontaneous organ failure. Also, rinsing your rice apparently helps release the starches and shit, which enhances flavor. Someone on my family got that from TikTok. All I know is that I don’t wanna have to clean yet another goddamn thing when I’m cooking. So when my wife is out, I just make the rice straight out of the bag. She doesn’t read this column, so she’ll never know that I do this. HA!

The internet has been a boon to food lovers everywhere. You can get good recipes and useful hacks anytime you want, anywhere you want. That’s the good news. The bad news is that way too many people think their way to cook is the ONLY way to cook. It’s why I hated reading Bon Appetit. If you didn’t use room-temperature eggs in that cake, did you REALLY make that cake? You are frying your eggs in olive oil, right? Don’t tell me you actually mix the wasabi and ginger into your soy sauce when you eat takeout sushi! People get possessive about their food online because, not unlike sports, it’s a relatively safe arena to fight with other people. But it gets really fucking tiring after a while. I just wanna make some rice. I don’t need a fucking kangaroo court sitting out there waiting to judge me on it. Judging other people is MY job, thank you very much.

Todd:

My children are now old enough (15) that they are asking to go to concerts, but young enough that they don’t want to go without adult accompaniment. I don’t mind going, and so far I’ve enjoyed myself. But the shows they want to go to are pretty pricy ($100 per ticket at the Anthem, Jiffy Lube Live, etc.). How much is too much to spend to go with them to a concert where I don’t know the band or the music, and at what point is it okay for them to go by themselves?

My daughter started going to concerts alone at roughly that age. She’s seen Alex G, Faye Webster, and a bunch of other indie acts. I’ve never gone with her to any of those shows because I don’t listen to those artists, and also because what teenager wants to see their favorite band with their dad standing right next to them? Not any of my kids. I’d rather stay at home in my chair. If she gets into a knife fight at the show, so be it. The only time I went with my kids to a show was for The Struts (they were all under 10 and going to the concert was my idea, not theirs), and a Smile concert that we never attended because I accidentally got the date of it wrong. That second one is still killing me because that band just released its second album but has no tour dates scheduled in North America in support of it. Please come back to America, Thom Yorke. I’ll give you a free Defector t-shirt.

Back to Todd. Once your kids hit high school, they’re old enough to see live shows without you, especially if they have trusted friends going with them. And they should WANT them to see those shows without you, because teenagers have to do shit without mom and dad so that they carve out lives of their own. This is where they begin to spread their wings and take flight … and then bum a vape off of someone in the crowd.

I don’t buy my daughter’s concert tickets. She has to pay for them herself, either with the money she earned from her part-time job, with her allowance, or with gift money from her grandfolks. This saves me money, but it also teaches the girl how to spend her own money judiciously. I shouldn’t have to tell her, “Hey man, I’m not spending $120 on a concert ticket for you.” She should know the value of a dollar enough to make that call herself, and she does. The shows she’s gone to have all had a sticker price below $50, even with the requisite Ticketbastard service fees. The one truly pricey show artist wanted to see, SZA, had a ticket price so insane that even she was like OK that’s off the list. This remedial knowledge of personal finance will serve my kid well when she goes to college in the fall and starts hitting my wife and me up for money every time we call.

On certain occasions, we’ll pay for the concert tickets, just like we always foot the tab when we take any of our kids to a sporting event, a movie, to a nice dinner, or on vacation. We also pay for their Spotify, plus a few other streamers. I consider all of that an investment. All of that is part of a lifelong lesson in arts and culture. We took our kids to Paris a year ago for Christmas. We did it because it was fun, but also because there was an intangible educational value in them going to another continent: visiting French museums, interacting with French people, taking the Metro, shopping in French corner markets, eating actual French food that doesn’t come from Le Pain Quotidien, and even going through the hell of international customs. All of that will stick with them for as long as they live, as will any great concert or game they go to. Budgets matter, of course. You can only afford what you can afford. But when you can afford concert tickets and trips abroad, you have consider the true value of those experiences to a growing mind. It’s often quite high.

Brian

I was eating Mediterranean food with my wife and coughed into my pita like it was a tissue and then ate it. My wife was repulsed but I thought it was fine. It was a light cough. Not a wet COVID hack, and I didn’t hock a loogie. It definitely wasn’t as bad as a sneeze. Did she overreact or am I the animal here? Where would you draw the line?

Why did you cough into the pita? Do you not have elbows? Was there no time to grab a napkin? What antiseptic properties does a piece of flatbread possess? That’s really the issue here. I’ve coughed/blown my nose into a lot of weird shit, but never directly into food I was about to eat. Would I eat my own snot pita? Probably, but it should never have to come to that. Your wife was right to give you shit for it. Next time, do it when she’s not looking.

To that end, sometimes I blow my nose into my sock before tossing it into the hamper. When my wife once caught me doing this, she was so perplexed that she couldn’t even be angry. It was just Why Drew? Why would you do that? Fuck’s wrong with you? (I don’t know.)

Jeff:

You’ve moved around a lot right? When you moved, did you ever regret it? Were you afraid of the change and starting over to build a whole new community, set of friends, lifestyle, culture, etc? What was it like for you living in a strange new place? I only ask because after the birth of our firstborn three months ago, it’s become clear that my wife and I will have to move closer to family down south, specifically her family. I’ve never lived anywhere but the northeast. I have friends and extended family here. I’m scared to move, frankly. 

I have only moved once to a place of my own choosing. I had just gotten out of college and I moved to New York immediately because I had a girlfriend there, and because I wanted an ad job. Every other move was forced upon me by my parents, by college admissions (I only got accepted into one school), or by my wife. I had some say in that last one, because my wife and I were about to start a family and we knew we couldn’t afford to do it in Manhattan. Otherwise though, I have been an involuntary nomad. I never wanted to leave Chicago when I was 8. I never wanted to leave Minnesota when I was 15. I couldn’t wait to leave prep school (or college, for that matter), but those were schools. Not homes.

As a result, I’ve grown hardened to relocation. In fact, living in Maryland for the past 20 years has made me itchy. It feels WEIRD to not move. If we ever relocate, and we plan to, I’ll already be inured to the process of moving all of my shit, orienting myself around my new town, chatting up all of the new people in it, and then keeping largely to myself. That’s the gift of being an itinerant child. You learn how to fit in places as best you can. But the process of developing that kind of thick skin is long and difficult, especially if you’ve already lived in the same place all through adulthood. You, Jeff, are right to be scared to move. It’s your human instinct to be. You’ll get panicky. You’ll have days where you’re like, “The fuck am I doing here?” You’ll struggle to connect with locals. All of that is inevitable. BUT … you’re moving to warmer weather. I’m looking outside my window right now it’s February as shit outside. The extra sunshine’ll do you good, if nothing else.

Geoffrey:

My wife is vegetarian/pescatarian but I’m not. So after dropping the kids off at daycare I sometimes get the urge to stop by the store and buy myself a steak, which I cook up with some eggs. I know steak and eggs is extant but it’s not exactly a common indulgence. But for me it is almost once a week. I fry that bad boy up and enjoy myself tremendously before frantically wiping down the stove and pan and sneaking out to the garbage can with any evidence that would expose me. My wife doesn’t object to me eating meat every now and then, but if she found out about this horrible little secret it would be trouble. So steak for me has become exclusively breakfast fare. Is this normal or am I some crazed lunatic?

There’s no wrong time to eat steak. I’ve eaten leftover steak with eggs for breakfast. It’s good. Treat yo self! But come clean to your old lady about it. Hide one thing behind her back and your wife will find out eventually. Ask my mistress.

Email of the week!

Hal:

I absolutely can verify that there is not a small number of dog BREEDERS who give their dogs handjobs. I was dating a dude that bred West Highland Terriers and did that, for artificial insemination or something? I totally should have dumped him immediately when he told me that. The second time I should have dumped him was a few seconds later when he said I was weird for thinking that was gross as fuck. Thank God he dumped me

OK, but he was jerking those dogs off for WORK. That’s an entirely different thing than doing it just because Fido was such a good little boy today. I’d jerk off dogs too if you paid me!

Wait, that came out wrong.

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