Have you heard that Donald Trump is now in second place in the Republican campaign? Well, let me set the record straight: The man has no chance of winning the election. Disregard this recent poll: Trump is still the most reviled of the GOP candidates. (Two weeks ago, he even tried to hire actors who would cheer for him when he announced his White House bid.) In spite of his irrelevance, “news” of Trump’s progress—his racist speeches, his angry tweets, the PR meltdown that ensued—have appeared in nearly every outlet in America. NPR even went so far as to offer up “5 Things You Should Know About Donald Trump”—an impossible and self-negating promise that might be taken as a journalistic cry of uncle. With 16 months to go until Election Day, the campaign press has all but given up.
Can you blame them? The Democratic race has been more or less decided for at least a year (if not since 2008), and we’re told the field of GOP candidates isn’t nearly as chaotic as it looks. Yet the Internet is still awash in coverage of the candidates: who’s kicking off her run for president, who’s announcing his, who’s still exploring the idea, who hasn’t given up. It seems there’s no excuse too thin for campaign punditry, no angle too inane, no staged event too contrived to make its way to print.
Have you heard what Mike Huckabee has to say about transgender rights? Did you see that Bobby Jindal had himself painted with white skin? How about the fact that Hillary Clinton is polling well with rappers? Doesn’t Jeb Bush look fit and trim?
I don’t mean to be a downer, but this is just the start. As New York’s Jaime Fuller noted several months ago, the candidates have already coalesced into clichés: Hillary is “polarizing,” and Jeb is an “introvert;” Marco Rubio counts as “young,” Rand Paul qualifies as “interesting, and Chris Christie has been certified as “brash.” Yet a long parade of campaign news still stretches out ahead—six seasons and three equinoxes, 500 days of bummer—a march of candidates and press events, mini-scandals and minor bouts of umbrage. Needless to say, none of this is likely to determine whom you’ll vote for next November, or even who might end up on the ballot.
What if you could press a button to quiet all this noise? What if you could shut off the din of election season, if not until Election Day then at least until next year? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few more months of peace and quiet before we’re thrust into the stressful antics of the campaign trail? Wouldn’t it be nice to hit the snooze bar for a while, so you can focus on more important things?
Friends, readers, fellow Americans: I would like to make that dream come true. What I have in mind is a free, downloadable browser extension that strips away unwanted campaign coverage from the Internet. It will screen your Twitter and Facebook feeds for election-related keywords and hide anything it finds. And it won’t just work on social media: It will also filter out campaign stories from the home pages of major news websites, including Slate, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, CNN, Huffington Post, Vox, the Atlantic, and Vice.
Alas, such a product is well beyond my nearly nonexistent coding skills. But if I’ve learned anything from presidential politics, it’s that family connections can paper over even the most egregious levels of incompetence. As it happens, my older brother, the George to my Jeb, runs a software company in New York. I made my case, and he agreed to take on the project. And now that project is complete.
Say hello to I Haven’t Got Time for the ‘Paign, a life hack for the weary news consumer, and something pretty close to the product of my dreams. Go on over to Paign-Free.com and give it a try.
A few notes on how it works: I Haven’t Got Time for the ‘Paign isn’t meant to cut you off altogether from election news. The biggest, most important campaign stories—how the candidates respond to major tragedies like the one in Charleston, South Carolina, for example—will reach you through the offline media (print newspapers, cable news, etc.), as well they should. The online filters aren’t perfect, either, so lesser stories will sometimes work their way into your feed. Again, that’s OK with me. The software tries to muffle needless noise, not seal you in a vacuum pod. If it can block out, say, 90 percent of the bloviating columns on the candidates, I’d call it a success.
Nor should the product be understood as a tool of apathy or civic disengagement. When you install IHGTP, you’ll be prompted for the date at which you’d like the feature to shut itself off. That’s the snooze-button function: You’re not turning off presidential campaign coverage forever; you’re only pushing it aside for now. Wanna keep your news feed clear until the caucuses in Iowa? Set it for Feb. 1. Or perhaps you’d like to wait until after Super Tuesday? That’s an option, too.
Even with the software installed, you can still read any article you want. When you’re on a filtered page, just click the IHGTP icon on your browser toolbar—the alarm clock done up in stars and stripes—to toggle filters on and off. You can also add your own keywords to a custom list. (Open up the extension options page for that.) With some careful curation, you could turn IHGTP into a filter for any topic in the news that might cause you consternation. (I Haven’t Got Time for Game of Thrones? I Haven’t Got Time for Professional Football? Whatever you want; it’s your snooze bar.)
The servers at my brother’s company will keep track of data on the custom filter settings and on the articles that the filters block but that users end up reading anyway. If these statistics turn up any noteworthy trends, I’ll report them back to you in another posting here in Slate. (The data will be anonymous and presented in aggregate.)
I’ve been testing the extension since last week, and it’s already saved me from seeing many hundreds of election-related tweets and posts and headlines. Sure, there will come a time when I’ll want to stay informed—when I’ll be glad to keep abreast of all the latest polls and PR stratagems. I’ve got my timer set for January. But until then, I’d rather keep my sanity.