Point of Disorder

By Emerson Schwartzkopf Last month, I saw a granite countertop turn into marble. It wasn’t a miracle. It was clickbait. It also represented something with social media and advertising that I thought would go away as more people became familiar with being online. To give it a strange-but-telling definition: People still want to see the puppies. What drew me in a few weeks ago wasn’t an adorable scampering of puppies – hey, even I’ve been known to spend a few minutes watching yelping pugs. Instead, on a respectable news website, I saw someone painting a countertop. A granite countertop. A perfectly good Santa Ceclia top, being slathered with a paint roller to an opaque white. The come-on: “They made their granite countertops into beautiful marble for $500!” Now, this wasn’t at the top of the webpage, where the main article filled me on the plans of a favorite motorsports driver*. This is down in the bottom area of the page where you’d find other stories with a similar theme or coverage, and then something called “paid content.” I generally avoid all those little squares dotting webpages with come-hither headlines, like “Enter your name, click, and brace yourself,” “… see what she looks like TODAY!” or “the perfect way to empty your bowels every morning.” It’s all advertising thinly disguised as news, although that's apparently not everyone's perception. In the name of journalistic research, I clicked – and, after a couple of redirects to go through someone’s digital turnstile – I read about a couple who created some beautiful Statuario countertops with some paint, a little elbow-grease, and a kit. “Instead of spending $5,000 to replace their countertops,” the story noted, “they spent only $500 and they’re glad they did!” Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a video. This time, it appeared on TikTok, although it didn’t feature any crazy stunts or time-lapse action – just a workable granite countertop turned into a gleaming facsimile of marble with an epoxy overcoat kit. All it lacked was three or four puppies scampering across the surface, Did anone pay attention to this? Oh, yeah. The next time I saw the item, the headline talked about millions taking in this wonderful transformation as the video was “infuriating the Internet.” It sure infuriated me, since my peek at clickbait led to Facebook ads, Instagram must-sees and other come-ons. Within a day or two, I had kit presentations interrupting my usual YouTube viewing of Formula 1 highlights, vintage Soviet nuclear-weapons-test films and airliner-crash re-creations. After a few weeks, I think the online tidal surge has finally ebbed. I’m not taking a shot at DIY countertops or using epoxy kits to do them. It’s possible to create a fine-looking facsimile overcoat right off the bat. (There are the issues of the epoxy aromas that aren’t communicated in online video, along with some long final-cure times and possible yellowing around heat sources, but that’s another discussion.) My beef is that these bits of clickbait aren’t seen as ads. Despite the “paid” disclaimer, more and more people see these as the real news. Journalists – the ones who are actually taught something, instead of being let loose with an iPhone and selfie stick – first learn the idea of the “inverted pyramid” structure of news, where the details are covered in order of importance. The biggest fact goes on the top, and the trivial notes are at the bottom. The Internet continues to trend to what I’d call the “inverted inverted pyramid,” where people increasingly believe the trailing trivial stuff is the real information on the page, and the top is the junk we journalists dream up to get people there. And, yes, I know that some out there are thinking “Right On!” that people aren’t believing the main message. Again, that’s another discussion when dealing with politics or pandemic or whatever, but let’s get down to business. More people are buying into the clickbait world, and it’s here where they really believe that it’s a snap to bypass that greedy fabricator with the huge quote and get what they want for pennies on the dollar. (They also start to believe a full kitchen with island and L-counterops can be done in actual Statuario marble for $5,000.) Or, they can make something just as good as a hard surface that’s been processed or manufactured with quality control and care, and fabricated using expert knowledge and years of experience. We’d like to think we’re not being undersold by a cute picture and a breezy headline, but that’s not the reality anymore. There’s no quick fix to this, although you may spot someone about to DIY their countertops if they come in and ask about getting a small scrap of granite. Some kit sellers recommend trying the process on a sample piece before tackling the big job. Don’t run that person off the property. Be generous and find a cutting-board-sized sample. Give it away if you’re generous. Just be sure to get their name, address and phone number, and call back in a few months. By then, they may be ready to try the real thing.

*Simona de Silvestro is slated to drive in this year's Indianapolis 500. Go Simona!