Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yahoo!'s homepage: The mundane and terrifying

Because I use Yahoo! for my email, I visit the homepage throughout the day. Yahoo! always presents the normal news headlines in the middle of the page. War in Afghanistan, landslides in South America, election predictions. The basics. But above those, always with a picture, is a story that rarely has anything to do with current news.

Yahoo! loves the wacky and the frightening. They're the online equivalents of the local TV newscasts, which seek to either terrorize viewers into being worried about everything inside their homes and out - "Could your toothbrush give you cancer?" - or delight with stories about dogs who can dial a phone or a 2-year-old boy who is an accomplished ventriloquist.

Over the last week, here some of the headlines featured on Yahoo!'s homepage.

The weird:
Cat plays Duck Hunt
I'm not a cat guy. And Duck Hunt was one of my least-favorite video games growing up, owing, mostly, to my own poor ability as a sportsman and marksman. So this video simply makes me uncomfortable. It's also, in the end, just a cat being a cat. They're often dumb and jump at ridiculous things. Deserving of a place front and center on one of the Internet's most popular websites?

Puppy saves boy from bees.
As I said, newscasts love stories like this. Ugly hero dog saves cute child. And, in fact, that's where this one comes from, a TV newscast; Yahoo! loved it so much it threw it on its homepage, delighting puppy owners, parents, children and bee-haters everywhere.

The You're Sort of Dumb So Here's How The World Really Works:
Ten things you don't know about flirting.
In-depth reporting like this keeps me coming back. No, I don't need these skills any longer, but maybe I can find some helpful tips I can pass on to single friends. Did you know, according to this story, "A full 62 percent of drivers have flirted with someone in a different vehicle while on the go, and 31 percent of those flirtations, it turns out, resulted in a date."

No data was provided on how many of those dates ended with awkward intercourse all parties involved regretted the following morning.

Secrets Your Car Dealer Won't Tell You.
Car salesmen must love stories like this. They're already the subject of cliched punchlines for any jokes involving unsavory business practices and they're usually as respected as tobacco executives. Now, here are the secrets they won't tell you.

The truth about men's pants sizes
Is that 36-inch waist really 36 inches? Are you actually fatter than you thought? ABC News investigates.

Things plumbers won't tell you.

There are so many people not telling us what they should be telling us. Car salesman, pants salesmen. God damn plumbers. One of my favorites on the list is that many people who say they're plumbers aren't. They're just handymen, or guys with ill-fitting jeans (because they bought the wrong size of pants) who know their way around a sink. So this isn't necessarily completely about what plumbers won't tell you. It's also about what liars won't tell you.

The terrifying:
These are Yahoo!'s favorites. These aren't even the typical fear-mongering headlines, which would usually focus on terrorists, pedophiles or terrorist pedophiles. These are everyday things, items people take for granted. But Yahoo! wants you to know that these things could kill you, or at least cause a lot of internal damage. Hypochondriacs or cowards shouldn't use Yahoo! email. Go to Gmail. Because if you read Yahoo!'s homepage on a consistent basis, you'll be waiting for death on every step or after every drink from a milk carton. Each time you log in or out of your mail, you'll be confronted with large headlines like...

10 Hidden Hazards in your home.
This article warns, "Be extra careful when sweeping out piles of mice poop. Deer mice droppings can transmit the deadly disease known as Hantavirus, which is breathed in along with all that stirred up dust. To avoid exposure to Hantavirus, wear latex gloves and a HEPA face mask, and wet down the floor before cleaning."

Hantavirus. Can be deadly, certainly. But extremely rare. According to this story, since the virus was first identified in the United States in 1993, there have been 534 cases. In California, there were 40 cases, a third of which resulted in death. Horrible. But is it really something homeowners should be worried about? Of all the things that can kill you in your home or on your commute or during a walk around the park, where does Hantavirus rank? In this article, it's No. 3 on hidden hazards. In real life? There are probably 3,000 other things to worry about.

Car booster seats to avoid.
This is certainly vital information and helpful. Better than warning about rare diseases you might catch from a rodent. But still, the headline plays on fear and that's why Yahoo! liked it.

Is that plastic container safe?
Not safe for the environment. Safe for your skin, lungs and heart. Safe for your eyes and liver. Safe for your soul. That plastic container - that one, the one you're holding now as you eat leftover spaghetti out of it because you're too lazy to get a new plate - could be killing you.

Stop using the microwave with your plastic. It will kill you. Stop using the plastic container multiple times. Throw them out. Otherwise, it will kill you. For God's sake, wash the plastic container by hand. Dishwashers bring out more deadly chemicals. Which will kill you. Don't freeze the plastic container. Because when you reheat them, those deadly chemicals again come out. And will kill you.

And here's the sixth point made in this article:
"Don't panic. Cutting down on exposure to potentially harmful chemicals in plastics can benefit your health. But as Dr. Halden reminds us, 'Many things in your life pose a much higher risk than exposure to plastics, such as smoking, poor diet and even driving a car.'"

In other words, ignore everything we just told you.

Don't panic. That's the last piece of advice, after five items warning about how plastic and its chemicals will leap out of seemingly harmless containers to take your life. Dr. Halden's right, of course. Don't panic. Why worry about plastic when there's so much more out there that can hurt you - lying plumbers, poor-fitting pants and Hantavirus. Those are the things to worry about.

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