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Mackie: Click Here and Make Me Popular

There it was, staring me in the face: I was no longer popular.

The evidence was incontrovertible — I was an Internet has-been who had only the briefest moment in the sun.

I refer to the Valley News website, which, to my consternation and shame, declares that certain articles are “popular,” ranking them from one to 10, the point after which the writers presumably must stand in the awkward corner at the junior high dance with those who are never asked to do the two-step. (With us losers, any “freaky” dances are out of the question.)

I suppose it is flattering to be included among the “featured voices’’ cabal on the home page, with a picture that makes me look 10 years older than I imagined, till confronted with the photographic evidence. A couple people told me I looked distinguished, but so do many men in old movies, and they are technically dead. Cold comfort, indeed.

When the popular-o-meter debuted, my column lurked in the nether regions of the top 10 – good enough! – for days, until readers caught on that actual news was afoot. I could have competed with reports of a blocked culvert in Croydon, or a postponed planning meeting in Plainfield. But once Dartmouth hired a president, and a spunky deer attacked a hunter, I was a goner, yesterday’s news. Readers dropped me like a hot potato, or a Mitt Romney, who as it happens always struck me as something of a cold potato.

Embittered, I plotted a comeback. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Absent providing actual useful content, my only path to the top would be to provoke.

Perhaps I could expose Willem Lange, the beloved North Country columnist and man-about-everywhere, as an apartment dweller with a heavy New York accent who never leaves his block, and fabricated the character he calls “Mother.’’ In fact, I could allege, Lange keeps company with a young woman who spends her days writing overheated emails to our generals overseas, and that he hates dogs, loathes the Green Mountains, and thinks fishing is “icky.’’ But I knew that Lange apologists, not to mention Mother, would get the better of me.

I could write about the night I took Lindsay Lohan for a drink at The Cave in downtown Lebanon. Miss Lohan, I would imagine, would declare the Upper Valley swell, even after being asked to leave The Cave by the management. I don’t think she holds a grudge, and is always willing to grace her fans with a mug shot.

Miracle diets are always good for readership, as in “Try my brownie diet and lose 7 pounds in a week!” I don’t know why such diets always require an exclamation point, but they do!

Popular writers offer snappy ideas and quick fixes, as in “Five Ways to Have a Happier Holidays!” (There’s that exclamation point again!) I’d recommend traveling to India, where there is much less chance of hearing Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, and take it from there. Or, “An Amazing Thing You Can Do With Your iPhone!” (Hey, you in line, talking about very personal things in my proximity as if I were an inanimate object. Here’s an amazing thing — end the call.)

Becoming popular isn’t what it used to be, back in the day when you might fly solo across the Atlantic, break the four-minute mile, or invent something useful like the polio vaccine and become famous. Lindbergh, Bannister, Salk — those were names that were bigger than pixels.

Now, the popular people are those who attract viral attention, like reality TV show villains or the YouTube dude who broke into sobs and laughter when he saw a double rainbow. I won’t even mention the loathsome Kardashians, but I just did, which should be good for a few hundred clicks.

I could get on my high horse (now that video might go viral!), but what sense in there in that? We writers must adjust to the new age. Now we live by the click and die by the click, and “content providers” are barkers on the Internet midway.

Forget the tattooed lady and the man who drives nails up his nostrils. I’ve got something even more astounding, mister. So click right here. Click right here.

Update: Yesterday, after this piece was written, my column trickled back into the Top 10. Fickle fame is mine again!

The writer can be reached at dmackie@vnews.com.