Google Chrome has announced that it will be rolling out an ad blocker upgrade. Let me go on the record with a qualified hoorah. (By the way, Qualified Hoorah will be opening for Ad Blocker at First Ave next week.)
As a general rule, I don’t like ad blockers because they encourage ingratitude. A website offers free reading material, assembled at their expense, and all they ask of us is to glance at a little box whose revenue helps them feed their children.
But. Some ads are so obnoxious they seem designed to punish the reader. The other day I got one of those ads that takes over the screen of your phone, informing me that I was the 10,000th person to visit the site, and so I was entitled to a free Porsche!!!! And the trunk is full of steaks!!! Click here to enter a vortex of hell from which there is no escape!
If I tried to dismiss the ad, the site disappeared. It’s like a newsprint ad that puts a hand over your eyes, and when you try to push it away, the newspaper bursts into flames.
The website Cnet describes Google’s intentions: “Chrome’s ad-blocking move is designed to rid the web of sites stuffed to the gills with ads or degraded by obnoxious ads.”
You know exactly what type of ads they’re talking about. Like a delivery truck that dumps rotten chum on your doorstep every hour, the offerings come in several rancid flavors:
Medical panic: Doctors warn that a particular food kills everyone who looks at it. There’s a picture of a carrot. Of course you’re supposed to think, “That can’t possibly be so; I looked at carrots today, and did not find my consciousness hovering over my body to observe people attempting to resuscitate me, after which I went toward the light. Whatever can they mean?” It turns out that they mean that if I buy what they’re selling — MegaLife Extract Powder made from shrimp brains — I can look at all the carrots I want.
Another popular ad in this category offers “Six Warning Signs of Gene Failure You Cannot Ignore.” There’s a picture of an elbow with a red circle around it. Hey, I have an elbow. Could I have gene failure? Is it inherited?
A subset of this genre is the hectoring imperative: “Four Ways to Slay Toe Rot. Do This Tonight.” Well, I was going to the ballet, but that can wait.
The celebrity corner: This is the bastion of the “then-and-now” approach. There’s a child actor’s mug on the left side, and a moldy post-Halloween pumpkin on the right. “Whoa,” you say, “is that Cindy from ‘The Brady Bunch’? I feel better about myself now.”
I also fell for: “You Won’t Believe How These Silent Screen Star Sex Symbols Have Aged” (pictures of skeletons). And: “What That Chair From the Set of ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ Looks Like Now Will Stun You.”
Mystery is also big in this genre: “Beyoncé Bought 14 Trees and You Will Not Believe ...” (They like to cut out in the middle of the sentence, so you are filled with anxiety. Sorry, ad network, don’t presume to know what I will or will not believe when it comes to Beyoncé’s trees.)
Smarm: There’s a picture of a female golfer, or a javelin thrower, or a competitive swimmer, and one of the following phrases: “The cameraman just kept shooting” (implication: because her clothes came off). Or, “She didn’t know why the crowd was cheering (because her clothes came off). Or, “The cast gasped but the actress kept going” (which was odd because she didn’t know her clothes had come off).
“Historical photos” that will SHOCK you because they were BANNED. You see a picture of Hitler in Paris, with a red circle around something in the background, and you think: “Did Paris have gene failure it couldn’t ignore? I must click!” And that leads to a 45-page slide show of stuff leached from the Library of Congress, each page groaning to load under the strain of 50 additional ads for more junk.
And you never find out what was up with that Hitler picture.
Ads like these make the internet a loud, junky, dumb place, and since large swaths are already dumb, junky and loud, the total effect makes you feel alienated from your fellow Americans: Is there something wrong with me if I’m not stunned by what Ginger from “Gilligan’s Island” looks like now? Am I the only one not slaying toe rot? Is everyone else saving money because they clicked on the ad that said “Minneapolis Drivers Who Have Fewer than 49 Tickets Are Saving Money On This”? This what?
Why can’t any of these ads finish a sentence? Is that how it works now? “Coke: It’s the Real ...” What? Thing? Object? Fish?
I’d like to think it’ll get better, but right now the daily internet experience is a constant series of intrusive annoyances. A site pops up in a window that asks for your e-mail address, with two options: “Yes, I would like to get daily updates about things that matter.” Or, “No thanks, I prefer to wallow in ignorance while sucking my thumb and making loud grunts.” There’s a video playing in the bottom right-hand corner, a slider on the left that asks you to sign up for notifications, a panel of gene failure ads, and maybe — just maybe — three sentences of the story visible.
So good for Google. Not that I’d use their browser. Are you kidding? I actually clicked on one of those wretched ads three years ago, and now when I google “ginger” for a recipe, the autocomplete offers “Gilligan’s Island” fan sites. I have to admit, I was surprised at what Ginger looks like now. I don’t know how she looks so ageless, but I should probably “Try This Tonight.”