Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
Ah, the mic drop. Is there a move more iconic?
(Maybe the chicken dance.)
Even if you’re not a fan of hip hop or stand-up comedy, the mic drop has become so popular in the last few years that you’ve almost definitely seen it. President Obama helped popularize it on Jimmy Fallon’s show; Adam Scott did it on Parks and Recreation; and one of those horrible, yellow Minion things did it in the movie Minions.
And, because Minions spread like cancer on the Internet, this column concerns itself with that last bit.
This story, as most stories about the Internet do, begins with Google. Google is known for their April Fools’ Day jokes in which they announce fanciful features for their products, and they’re also known for following through and releasing many of them, regardless of whether they’re actually good ideas or not. This year’s joke was one of those—a silly feature that they announced and then actually built and rolled out—and it ruined more than a few lives.This is how we do things on the Internet, though. We come up with terrible ideas and then immediately push them out into the world where they ruin people’s lives.
The feature appeared in the form of a button labeled “Mic Drop” that appeared in Gmail next to the “Send” button. When pressed, it had the effect of appending a GIF of Bob the Minion dropping a microphone to the outgoing message, sending it, and then “muting” the conversation (which keeps future replies out of the user’s inbox). There was no confirmation dialog, and there was barely any notification of what had just occurred.
The effect, for the many users who pushed the button by mistake, was disastrous—just as you’d expect it to be. Twitter (which is always full of truth) was soon overflowing with complaints from people who accidentally sent the “mic drop” graphic to their employers and clients (including one funeral director who had sent it to one of his bereaved customers). Most of them were quickly fired—and, thanks to the “mute” feature, remained completely unaware that they had been, or even that they had done anything wrong, for hours.
This is how we do things on the Internet, though. We come up with terrible ideas and then immediately push them out into the world where they ruin people’s lives. We do it with tweets, and we do it with new technologies, even when they’re loaded with obvious problems. The main problem, of course, with the “Mic Drop” feature was that it was too easy to use by mistake, but there were other problems as well. There was the fact that they didn’t do enough to educate people about what it would do. And then, there was…well, there was the “mic drop” image itself.
Whatever else you may say about the act of “dropping the mic,” it’s hard to deny that it’s an inherently aggressive act. Owing to rap battles as it does, there’s an implied message to it: “I’ve just said the last word, and I’ve shut you down so effectively that I know I can both surrender my platform and damage some expensive electronics that I don’t own with impunity.”
Or something like that. It’s not very punchy when you type it out, which is probably why people drop the mic instead of saying the words.
The problem, of course, is that when the mainstream adopts a gesture, it tends to ignore its gravitas. The mic drop has gone mainstream enough at this point that it’s hard to get on the Internet without seeing someone invoke it (e.g., “I just shut you down, fool. *mic drop*”). Even some comedy clubs have begun pleading with performers not to drop the mic, in an effort to deter would-be comedians who have apparently completely missed the point of the mic drop—that you’ve just delivered a set so good that you’ll be invited back no matter how destructive you are.
Invoked ironically, the mic drop can indeed be funny—but only if the one invoking it and the one on the receiving end are on the same page about what it means. Shutting down a friend on Twitter with a mic drop? Funny. Shutting down an old lady who just lost her husband of 50 years and has never heard of a mic drop? …not so much.
As that sage Michael Scott pointed out, “There’s no such thing as an ‘appropriate joke.’ That’s why it’s a joke.” Any time a joke is made, there’s inherently some degree of transgression taking place—that’s what jokes are. That means the line between a joke and an insult is a thin one—and it’s always, always, always important to know which side of it you’re on.
There’s no doubt that when Google introduced the “Mic Drop” feature they were just trying to be funny (which, let’s be honest, is never a good idea for engineers), but because the user interface couldn’t even differentiate between “Send” and “Mic Drop,” let alone “joke” and “aggression,” they ruined quite a few lives.
They say there are three parts of any communication: what was said, what was heard, and what was understood. There’s a verse in Proverbs:
Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death
is the man who deceives his neighbor
and says, “I am only joking!”
It’s one we might all do well to absorb—even on April Fools’ Day.
And I’m out.