Do you give mercy claps? You know, they’re like mercy shags. You don’t really care about the guy, but he gives you a sob story, and he’s reduced to begging. Your mom always said you’re too nice for your own good. You prove it by bedding him, even though you close your eyes and plan your next vacation until it’s over.
Not that I’ve been there, done that. But, you know, (clearing throat) I read an article once.
Claps can be like that. You start reading an article with a promising title. Something about saving for retirement while taking world-class vacations. You’re all in; it’s just what you need — retirement and vacay in one easy read. You‘re all set to sign up for language classes to prep. And then you curl up with a glass of box wine (budgeting for retirement, remember) and start reading the piece.
At the end, you give yourself a head slap.
The writer’s idea of a world-class vacation is traveling on one of those discount airlines that always gets stranded in some god-forsaken, one-runway airport in the middle of a salt plain because it fell into bankruptcy after takeoff. And while a competitor takes pity on the crew and comps them back to their hub on the next flight out, passengers try to raise a warm body on the helpline. Plus, the writer has given you zilch on retirement tips.
So what do you do about claps?
You read the article to the end, so there’s that. Does that justify a clap? It was only seven minutes of your time, the sweet spot for curation they say, and come on. The writer did post a great picture of the Amazon rain forest, supposedly the next stop on the whirlwind tour, if the creditors don’t catch up with the airline. But the pic was from Upsplash. So how hard did she have to search? Okay. One clap.
Then, you read the author’s bio. She overcame hardships you’ve never had to face. Something about needing money to bail a cousin out of jail. But she won medals for synchronized swimming in a land with perpetual drought.
Come the bloody on. If that isn’t a case for mercy claps, what is?
So you start tapping — three taps for the medals.
A family crisis? Some people crowdfund their shoe addictions whinging about their phony problems. You don’t want to get sucked in unless she gives up proof.
Synchronized swimming? You binge-watched Esther Williams movies with your grandmother before binge-watching was a thing. So 20 claps for a trip down memory lane. Done and dusted. You feel good about yourself, forget retirement schemes, and buy yourself a decent bottle of wine.
The next week you get an email from a writer you’ve been following. You don’t read his articles, but you don’t know how to unfriend him or whatever you do on the site when a writer really isn’t your type.
Today he snags your attention with a clickbaity title on an article that snags your attention.
Ten ways to get the love you deserve. They worked for me, and they’ll work for you. You roll your eyes at first. Are they still doing listicles? How 2018. But how can anyone resist the love you deserve? Because you’ve just broken up with Brad in Client Outreach.
Or, I should say, Brad had the nerve to block your account on Facebook and Twitter after gifting him with that bespoke sweater for his birthday after god knows how many hints he dropped. If anyone deserves love it’s you, my little dove, so how could you not click on the article?
Only to find that what this guy thinks are tips to get love reads like an ad for a mail order bride from the wild west days. Did this guy get trapped in a time warp? He warns you not to talk about books because men don’t like brainy women. Ask his mother for his favorite dishes.
You’re ready to unfollow him, despite the advice from the big earners who say don’t do that.
The Medium bots are watching, and they don’t like fickle members. But then you catch a few bits from his profile. Single dad of three. Hopes to score as a Top Writer to pay off hospital debt because he lost health insurance when his call center job transferred off shore.
Oh, seriously? You with the six followers and no articles because you’re too chicken to publish? You of all people are not going to give this guy a few claps?
Look how hard he’s trying. Two jobs for crying out loud. You barely hold it together with one job and no kids. A dozen claps are no skin off your nose. Okay, you make it 15 but vow never to read his stuff again.
And so it goes. You get suckered in by the sexy titles, or the alluring girl in the photo, or sharp formatting that makes the story look so gol darned professional it’s got to be worth something.
And what’s it to the reader? It doesn’t cost us anything to give a few rando claps. It’s not like Medium charges us extra.
We’re not required to like the stories we clap for.
We know the site is rife with engagement whores, people who clap and follow and give heartfelt comments about the wonders of your prose so you’ll follow back and pump up their stats. And never give you a second look once they snared you onto their dashboard.
But here’s the thing with mercy claps. It’s like allowing the public into the country club without asking them to pay a membership fee. It encourages the riff-raff. You don’t get the person of quality. Not that I have that problem myself. Luckily, the claps I receive are the real deal, from members who recognize real talent!!!!!
Seriously, though, if you give indiscriminate claps just because a terrible writer makes your heart ache for their life of perpetual hard luck, they clapped for you once, or they’re a friend of a friend in a Medium support group, you give them the impression they’re the next Pulitzer Prize winner. They’re going to spew out more listicles when we want articles. More articles when the trend goes back to listicles.
They can’t keep up. They don’t hone their craft, stay ahead of the crowd when it comes to cutting edge journalism, fiction, confessional essays. If we give everyone claps, how do we know who’s really good, who’s really worthy?
Not that I have that problem myself. Luckily, the claps I receive are the real deal, from members who recognize real talent.
But if you’re going to engage with a writer, make sure it’s for the right reasons.
Make sure the story is not just a pretty title, but the article has substance, actionable content. A piece of writing you can face over breakfast. Call back the next day; ask for more of the good stuff.
Don’t cheapen yourself, clapping for the first piece that comes along.
You’ll meet a lot of articles in the Medium universe. Have some self-respect. Just say no to clapping on the first read. I’m just saying folks. Don’t clap around. You’ll feel better about yourself in the morning.