The virus of doubt.

I’ve been spending a lot of my reading time on fitness and exercise recently, looking for ways to repair my body after last year’s misadventures. I’ve decided to lean into my strength training and cut back a bit on the cardio, but that’s by the by.

As I spent more time browsing these sites, of course, various algorithms started to feed more of the same to me, and the more I read, or really the more clickbait I scanned, the more ticked off I became.

There was a formula at work. You can see it in these grabs below. It’s a particular fave for the sub editors at Men’s Health, but once you start looking you see it everywhere.

I only really clued into it yesterday, and then by coincidence I happened across a post at Six Colors in which Jason Snell quoted Tony Fadell, the founder of Nest and a key boffin behind the iPod’s invention. Fadell was talking about Steve Job’s story telling techniques, and one in particular.

He used a technique I later came to call the virus of doubt. It’s a way to get into people’s heads, remind them about a daily frustration, get them annoyed about it all over again. If you can infect them with the virus of doubt—”Maybe my experience isn’t as good as I thought, maybe it could be better”—then you prime them for your solution. You get them angry about how it works now so they can get excited about a new way of doing things.

Steve was a master of this. Before he told you what a product did, he always took the time to explain why you needed it. And he made it all look so natural, so easy.

I think it’s exactly what’s going on in those fitness posts. They’re preying on people who’ve committed to something, fitness and health in this case, probably experienced a natural level of frustration and annoyance with it, and so find themselves vulnerable to being negged and exploited - in this case for clicks.

I wondered yesterday why it pissed me off so much, and today I got my answer.