The internet has a problem: the Popcorn Post is king and its rule is tyrannical.
Popcorn Posts are quick and easy to write, quick and easy to read. They come packaged with a compelling, enticing headline that demands attention. They are easily finished in one brief sitting, perhaps while avoiding work or while aimlessly browsing on your phone. They are short, typically making only a single point.
Most of them could be even shorter - the single point they make can normally be expressed in a solitary paragraph, but the requirements of modern content creation demand they be padded and wrapped in the guff and fluff of prosaic pabulum.
Because of how easy they are to write and how popular they are to read - several in a sitting, normally - they are everywhere, clogging every feed and suffocating every platform. Like an invasive alien weed, their ubiquity grows with every passing hour until we are up to our eyeballs in them.
POP! 7 Ways to Crush Your... POP! I Tried This Unusual Habit for 30 Days and You Won't... POP! How I Learnt the Secret of... POP! Suffering From This? Try... POP! We Asked Ten Entrepreneurs How They Dealt With... POP! The Six Habits of Highly Unsuccessful... POP!
The points that are made - no matter how compelling or concise - tend to be vapid. Empty. Limp. Like popcorn itself, they are delicious and give you the illusion of being 'full', but they are utterly lacking in nutritional value.
It's a rustling, buttery mass of mostly forgettable writing. It goes in one ear and out the other as fast as crap through a goose. While a bag of it is fine from time to time, we cannot survive on popcorn alone.
There needs to be a balance, for writers and readers alike.
If you are a reader currently suffering from a prolonged spell of popcorn paralysis, my prescription for an immediate cure comes in three parts.
1. Read more books. This is a no-brainer. Instead of nibbling small articles, pick up a good, challenging book that you can really chew on. Pause every so often to think about what you've read. Write your thoughts down and keep them somewhere you can find them again. Repeat. Doing this will a) give you less time for popcorn and b) give you some actual nourishment. There's an unlimited supply of 'recommended reading' lists out there for all tastes, so go pick something from one of those lists and get to work. (My Book Notes are one place you might start.)
2. Save longer posts for later. If you find an interesting long form article online - one that looks like it will need some time to sit down and read - don't just leave the tab open and hope for the best. You don't have to read it right now. Instead, find a way to save it for later. I use Instapaper and plenty of people like using Pocket. Save the article to one of those services and read it at your leisure when you've got the time to absorb it properly.
3. Set time aside. Speaking of time, an easy fix is to set a specific time aside for reading. I rise at 6am every morning, make myself a pot of fresh, hot coffee and read until I make breakfast at 7am. It's quiet, there's no distractions and it's a calm way to start the day while getting a bunch of high quality reading done.
If you are a writer, I recommend one thing and one thing only.
Write longer pieces occasionally. They don't have to be novels or doctoral theses, they just need to have more substance than the average clickbait popcorn piece. Try different forms, shoot for more comprehensive detail (which usually also means a higher word count) and write for different audiences. In short, mix it up and go a little deeper. You'll be surprised by what you can achieve.
With delicious irony, this article is itself a popcorn post. This was part of the point. It was short and fun to write, short and fun to read (I hope). I normally write longer and more involved posts, so this was something of a change for me. I also wanted to show that I could distil it all - this whole article - into a single, solitary paragraph. It’s a nice way to end this piece with a final, satisfying, TL;DR crunch:
Don't just write or read short and easy 'popcorn' content - it's bad for you. Like a diet that consists of only one nutritionally empty food, we can expect to become unhealthy in time. Instead, vary what you read - or what you write - to include longer form writing that challenges and stretches the mind. This way, we can learn more as readers and broaden our skills as writers.
So keep on reading. Keep on writing. Just make sure to keep an eye on your diet.
I write a newsletter about the internet. It's called Internet Connection. There's a few hundred of us that fall down the rabbit hole every other week. Want to come along for the ride? Drop your email below.