I’ve been on the Internet since 1996, and almost from the very beginning, one of my policies has been that I almost never link to articles I respond to when they are by what I consider to be low-quality arguers. My arguments for why certain people don’t and won’t get links has not changed – it’s for several reasons, the main one being that I see no reason to give non-credible people the credibility of a link, given that they can’t get traffic the normal way, by doing quality work.
But once, as I dealt with a certain Skeptic that made an issue of this, something else occurred to me on this subject.
I’d been doing a lot of research on how Internet usage affects thinking processes. Books like Carr’s The Shallows report that whereas books are highly conducive to deep, contemplative thinking, the Internet – with all its bells and whistles, with all the links within articles – is not.
Idealized visions of the Internet supposed that with links, people would have immediate access to alternate points of view and be able to critically compare them, which is the supposition of those Skeptics who think they deserve the “affirmative action” linking provides.
But that isn’t what’s happening. Instead, the tangle of links typically distracts users down an endless rabbit trail in which the original article becomes long forgotten, and they follow link after link after link. They either never return to the original article, or else, they return to it so late and after so much other distraction that the train of argument has become lost.
The cynic in me is suddenly asking a question. Could it be that in some way, these Skeptics have been aware all along of the powerful distractions that links provide away from our arguments? Could it be that they’re well aware that distraction is the best way for them to “win” deconverts, and that their best hope, aside from peddling emotional distress (eg, “if God existed and cared He’d cure your cancer”), is to distract readers from considering rational arguments offered by apologists in depth?
In some cases, probably not. Chances are that many of them had no greater motive than to have traffic drawn to their material by riding on the traffic of apologetics sites that get far more visits than they can ever hope to have based on quality alone. But there is also little doubt that some knew the power of distraction in the service of their cause. Those whose best weapon was the 10,000 word off-topic rant certainly have some conception of this, and their ultimate hope that a link from my website to theirs was conceivably to gamble that once the reader left, they’d never come back.
Well, I won’t let anything like that happen. This month I started one of my website’s periodic full reviews as part of a site redesign, and one of my main changes will be to remove all links from the body of article texts, including links to my own material. All of these will be removed to the very bottom of articles, so that readers will not be distracted into clicking links and following endless trails to distraction.
In other words — no more rabbit trails.