Ben Simmons: Have we procrastinated ourselves into political hysteria?

CommonSpace columnist Ben Simmons says we should free ourselves of the online chains and take back control of our clicks

LIKE the rest of you, I am never far away from hitting that Facebook bookmark when I am meant to be working. It is the gift and the curse of office work that, as long as we occasionally grimace and frown, it is impossible for our bosses to determine thoughtful endeavour from idle stalking of our social circle. 

Procrastination remains a taboo in the office, a kind of nudity almost, where we clothe ourselves in exaggerated descriptions of our to-do lists when we all know that underneath there lies the common flesh and blood of distracted activity.

Is it time we recognised that procrastination is baked into the human psyche? Mental work is generally a series of short sprints of inspiration and decisions, not a tick-tock of metronomic typing and slowly congealing thought. 

Is it time we recognised that procrastination is baked into the human psyche?

What matters is that work gets done on time, rather than takes time to complete, yet this hasn’t translated into widespread acceptance of fallow periods of productivity.

Unconscious thought plays a key role in creativity and problem-solving, and successful technology companies like Google have designed working practices that favour creativity over a clock-in clock-out mentality, but for most of us we are unlikely to be commended for napping come our annual review.

The reason this matters now more than ever is that this attitude to what "hard work" really looks like could be at least partially responsible for one of the biggest challenges facing society at the moment: "fake news" and political polarisation. 

By closing off overt forms of avoiding work we have forced ourselves into covert use of social media, and this has had a mutative effect on the news. Prior to social media our consumption of news and op-eds was much more deliberate; we asked Jeeves to bring us the news when we wanted it, and Miniclip didn’t ambush us with scare stories about immigrants when we wanted to fly our helicopter through a tunnel.

The change in landscape to where man can live on clicks alone has flipped the relationship between individuals and the media, creating a world where we are actively hunted and mined for advertising views. 

This is a call to action for the workers of the world to unite behind your knitting, your books, your computer games.

The "build it and they will come" model of journalism, while noble, cannot compete for the necessary share of the procrastination economy which is increasingly a hungry-hippos nightmare of hysterical clickbait.

Now that the target market of news outlets is the idle browser, news has become entertainment. News now needs to stand out among the cats and dinners of Facebook, but in trying to be entertaining has instead blended into a casual environment of relatively unexamined consumption.

When we idly click our way through the working day we are not fact checking or thinking critically about journalistic integrity.

Political parties set aside millions to fight this crucial social media battle, not on facts, but on feelings. The recent Conservative plan for Brexit is basically a to-do list with "make a plan" as the first item yet that won’t matter if all you remember is that they feel "strong and stable". 

The phrase "magic money tree" contains no factual information yet many will only remember that Labour’s plans were unrealistic. Like printing miniscule retractions, "fake news" wins out every time, even when debunked because it leaves an emotional fracture which gradually becomes a canyon of voter outrage at whichever group in society is being targeted.

Boldly don that eye mask and neck pillow, fearlessly launch Netflix and refuse the urge to alt-and-tab when you hear the footfall of your colleagues. 

What matters is that work gets done on time, rather than takes time to complete, yet this hasn’t translated into widespread acceptance of fallow periods of productivity.

Since Brexit and Trump there has been lots of discussion about introducing analytics to social media that can flag potentially misleading articles. Implementation of any such system will be imperfect and won’t solve the problem entirely. 

We need to get away from casual browsing and unexamined consumption and embrace other forms of procrastination. We need to make politics boring again, consigned to broadsheets at the table on a Sunday morning, where it causes the least economic and social harm. 

This is a call to action for the workers of the world to unite behind your knitting, your books, your computer games. Boldly don that eye mask and neck pillow, fearlessly launch Netflix and refuse the urge to alt-and-tab when you hear the footfall of your colleagues. 

Let us reject the tyranny of feigned productivity, embrace the measured sanity of indolence, and let the poisonous fruit of fake news wither on the vine.

Anyone for online scrabble?

Picture courtesy of Daniel Friedman

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