Challenge brings internet stupidity to a new level

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I remember pretty clearly the early days of the internet.

This new technology would revolutionize the way humans lived.

We would be able to share knowledge and communicate easily with those a world away. The internet would bring people together.

The internet seemed like a game-changer in the human experience.

Fast forward a couple of decades.

The internet has brought us ... the Tide Pod Challenge.

Yes, the new technology has done all those amazing things we could only dream of back in the last century. We can FaceTime friends in Taiwan, research ancient texts, share information easily, heck, we can write our columns at home, in our pj's and send them immediately to the office.

But ... the internet has brought us Russian bots, annoying pop-up ads, conspiracy theories spreading like wildfire, panda cams, and stupid human tricks.

That's where the Tide Pod Challenge comes in.

If you haven't heard, it's a craze that apparently is catching on among the young and not-too-bright set. They take a video of themselves eating (yes, you've heard that right, eating) a combination of liquid detergent and fabric softener packaged together in a cling wrap that decomposes in the washer.

Really. They do.

In the first half of January, poison control centers had handled 39 cases in which teenagers were intentionally exposed to the packets. In 2017 there were 53 such cases for the whole year.

There have been stories in the past about young children who, thinking the colorful pods were something yummy, accidentally were exposed. Over 10,000 such exposures of that type happened last year.

The chemicals in the packets can cause severe burns to the mouth, esophagus and respiratory tract. There have been deaths reported from eating the pods.

That's tragic. This stupid challenge, however, is different.

This is a dangerous attempt to grab attention. It's a variation of the other stupid human tricks the internet has spawned, like the cinnamon challenge, the salt-ice challenge (where they rub salt on their hands and hold ice until it begins to freeze burn the skin) and other ridiculous schemes.

Teenagers have been engaging in risky, ridiculous behavior since time began. I'm sure the cave mothers and fathers were constantly warning their youthful offspring to quit trying to jump across the hot tar pits, and our 19th century ancestors no doubt shook their heads over rowdy games of buggy "chicken."

However, thanks to the internet, this type of crazy behavior has a forum, a place to share with the world the very heights of one's ridiculous impulses. And, thanks to the pack mentality it engenders, you can get lots of encouragement to find something that raises the bar on bad, bad ideas.

Like so many things, the internet can be a source of so much good. However, we are constantly reminded of the negative aspects of having a worldwide forum, and the need for caution and an internal BS barometer when it comes to what we see.