Breaking Bad and online altruism

37695_592291995641_71003264_34422955_2705335_nOne of the most fascinating university courses I’ve ever taken was an evolutionary psychology course, in which we studied the possible evolutionary advantages for certain behaviours and lifestyles, and thus possible reasons why such behaviours and lifestyles were selected in early human history to continue onto the present day. One behaviour in particular that I remember discussing in that class is altruism, which is traditionally defined as selflessness, but in fact, evolutionarily speaking, is not. Why I’m thinking of this today, an entire decade after I took the class, is because yesterday was the Breaking Bad series finale, and I haven’t yet heard what happened.

Having devoured the last Harry Potter book in 24 physically- and technologically-secluded hours for fear of someone in the immediate/online vicinity spoiling what happened, I was tentative about opening my laptop this morning, sure that no less than 20 statuses/tweets/headlines would say, in 140 characters or less, what happened to Walter White. But, I went through my daily Internet-browsing routine this morning and…nothing. Yes, I’ve seen more than 20 statuses/tweets/headlines about how good the finale was and links to posts containing spoilers, but that’s it. Of course, I’m still waiting for the proverbial tweet to drop, but why hasn’t anyone yet broken the silence? In a world where we both want everything instantly and want to tell the entire world our opinions/every mundane detail of our lives instantly, even to the point where people can’t experience things without tweeting about it at the moment it’s happening, why is the entire Internet being so seemingly respectful of those who have yet to see the finale? Is the spoiler alert and self-censored posts on an otherwise uncensored Internet the 21st century’s digitized version of altruism?

One one hand, the silence makes sense: we’ve all had some movie/book spoiled by a review that said way too much, so those who have seen the finale can empathize with their friends who don’t have TV and have to wait for the final chapter of Walter and Jesse’s story to come out on DVD/Netflix. But on the other hand, the online hand, what would the punishment actually be for spoiling it for everyone who reads what you send out into the world wide web? A couple dropped followers who you didn’t actually know in real life? A couple of expletive-containing comments that you could delete off your blog/Facebook anyway? In other words, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that would ensure the dying out of your online genes. So, is there an evolutionary advantage to the spoiler alert/online altruism? Or, will the spoiler alert soon die out when those people who do actually care about how many online followers they have stop caring about how many online followers they have?

Whatever the answer is, please, everyone, don’t tell me what happened. I will stop following you.

(Photo by me, I think, on the way to the top of a mountain in Jasper National Park. Apparently, someone didn’t want to spoil it for others as to which direction the top was.)

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