I am not sure that anyone has all the answers or has exhausted the range of possibilities, but after reading this article about “content farms” in Slate, I thought I would give it a whirl. Of course content farms never give a decent answer, but causal explanations in the back forty have tremendous appeal and do not require anything of substance.
It reminds me of Malcom Gladwell’s article, “The Pima Paradox,” in which he explains the mysterious workings of best-selling diet books:
The expository sequence that these books follow–last one picked, moment of enlightenment, assertion of the one true way–finally amounts to nothing less than a conversion narrative. In conception and execution, diet books are self- consciously theological… It is the appropriation of this religious narrative that permits the suspension of disbelief.
There is a more general explanation for all this in the psychological literature–a phenomenon that might be called the Photocopier Effect, after the experiments of the Harvard social scientist Ellen Langer. Langer examined the apparently common-sense idea that if you are trying to persuade someone to do something for you, you are always better off if you provide a reason.
Call it the magic of causation.
Update: Whatever causal tricks are driving traffic to content farms did not work for this blog. Oh well.