Back when I was working at The Daily Banter, I received an email pitch one afternoon from someone named Kacie Rahm who had apparently been commissioned by a website called Movoto to do a ‘study’ on just how poor Americans’ sense of their own national geography really was.

As she went on to explain, she and her team had gathered a collection of 400 people and asked them to locate various states on an unlabeled map. After each state’s name appeared, quiz-takers were given 8 seconds to move their cursors to the correct area of the map. The twist: their cursors were outfitted with motion-tracking technology that allowed Movoto’s team to see exactly where and how they moved their mice when searching for the correct answer.

The results are about as disappointing as any cynic may come to expect…

However, once you get done wondering if every person really should get the right to vote, you have to ask yourself what the real point of this ‘study’ is. To help illustrate how little our fellow countrymen know about the country we all pledge allegiance to? Presumably.

But what if I told that Movoto is, to quote Ms. Rahm’s email to me, “an online resource that allows potential home buyers to browse available real estate…well known for the top 10 lists and other viral content posted on their blog”? Doesn’t that taste a little funny in the ears?

It’s a cultural pastime to mock those that aren’t in the know (see: Jay Leno’s hhillaarrriiouss ‘Jaywalking’ series) and sure it’s great for we audience members to get validation that we are, in fact, not the most uninformed creatures in the country. But what’s the endgame to all this? If it’s to demonstrate a problematic knowledge-divide in our culture, congratulations, that horse is dead. If it’s to show others the error of their intellectual ways by publicly ridiculing them, we should remind ourselves that the dunce cap and shame corner fell out of favor for a reason (no matter how much angsty millennials on Twitter are trying to bring it back).

Which means this is really all for our entertainment…

This is intellectual torture porn.

When someone watches that video and screams (/types emphatically), “Ahhh, how could you not know that’s where Louisiana is?! That’s the boot!” there’s a quick endorphin rush somewhere between a sneeze and an orgasm that gets released; a brief, fleeting sensation of appeasement and confirmation of self. 

It feels good to be on top…

Only what about that purple dot you just lolled all over? You know, the one from the Mid-Atlantic, a small town in Maryland maybe, who is hoping that the large rectangle she is resting on is Wyoming even though it is most definitely South Dakota. Where does she fit in all this? She probably got some money for doing this ‘study,’ but we both know that’s not going towards her education fund.

It makes sense though. Sometimes we all need a little “validation of self” to help us feel like while we may not be masters of our own domain, we’re at least not working in its intellectual cellars. Let’s just have the decency to be slightly ashamed about what we’re doing. Even Jay Leno has stopped sticking his microphone in strangers’ mouths.

 
An earlier version of this piece appeared on The Daily Banter.