Yesterday morning I awoke to a dandruff coating of snow. ‘Aargh, my one weakness!!’ I thought; after all I am merely several tonnes of electrified steel and tempered glass and my opponent is a small quantity of crystallised water formed around dusty cores. This will destroy my chances of meeting my scheduled arrival times.
But I struggled through with trainful determination.
Snow is indeed the one weakness of our creaking public transport system, except for all the others like unseasonable cold or warmth. Or thunder, which is scary for trains. Leaves, lightning, any combination of weather patterns, it’s all the same ultimate weakness.
This morning the London Underground was faintly troubled (on the Bakerloo Line) by strike action over pay and conditions. Naturally I was as flabbergasted and outraged as disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, that well-known writer of venomous letters to local councils and newspapers.
After all, I don’t get overtime pay and anyway everybody knows they’re all hugely overpaid anyway, they want to try living in the real world etc.
A recent edition of the Economist posed a question: is innovation drying up as a force for economic growth? After all, increasingly powerful computers in the workplace ought to boost productivity by reducing the time necessary for completing various tasks.
But they haven’t.
Spoiler alert: the writer didn’t seem to think there was much to worry about; such innovations take longer than you might think to have a measurable impact on productivity. The cynic might suggest that computers may boost and reduce productivity simultaneously – the same work can be done in less time, but with more time spent on the Daily Mail website’s sidebar of shame or, worse, wallowing in the ‘Comments’ sections of The Guardian, BBC or Telegraph. Insert appropriate local news purveyor here, naturellement.
Now technological progress is wonderful, but the combined effects of 24 hour news and the internet means that we have increasingly less time to digest what we’re told. We have so many available sources of information it can be difficult to be discerning in which ones we trust. Each new story, each new scandal demands: “’Ere! Whochoo fink of that, then?”
An illustration – polls taken have found that a majority of people in the UK believe a sizeable minority, or even a majority, of all public welfare spending goes to benefits cheats. In other words it’s lost on fraud.
Is that statement true? Is it, in fact ‘a’ statement, or several (about beliefs, about spending and about fraud)? What do the terms mean – what is ‘public welfare spending’, what constitutes ‘benefits fraud’? Are we talking a statutory definition of fraud or something more general? Where’s the context? What does any of it mean, and what do you think about that meaning?
Nah, just playin’, the real questions are: who’s doing what about it? And whose fault is this?
And of course that last question is the most important one; after all, I’m not the one fraudulently claiming benefits. What do I think of that? I don’t know, but I am angry.
Add to that the ease with which one can plaster comments on the internet, however ill thought out, and you’ve a recipe for some ridiculously entertaining stuff. The broadsheets are past masters at this – ‘whiny’ liberals and ‘paranoid’ rightwingers are so easily wound-up and the readership tends to be reasonably well educated, which means that they use more and bigger words as an alternative to calling each other **%(£ and *(%&^”!£$. Which would otherwise get repetitive.
And all this content creation is free and easy to achieve; all you need to do is write something fairly one-sided and chuck in some controversial factoid or other. Then wait for the verby brawling to commence and voila: proof for your advertisers that they’re not wasting money, which in turn keeps the fiscal wolves from the financial door (because no one actually buys newspapers these days).
But you can have too much of a good thing, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read an article, moved to the comments section and quite forgotten whatever the article was about. People talk about Twitter spats. Pssh, check the Guardian.
The vitriol, the pomposity, misplaced pedantry, blind prejudice repackaged as insight (see everything said about politicians, bankers, lawyers, teachers, celebrities, public sector workers…) The lack of self-awareness, conceited, opinionated bollocks by people who proclaim the profit-seeking impulse or European Union to be morally evil constructs. And that’s just the lifestyle sections, let alone politics or the economy.
To paraphrase Mark Twain: it’s better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re beah thick than open your mouth and prove it, you feel me, bruv?
Much of the time the commenters aren’t even commenting on the article itself or the issue at hand but engaging in some stylised tribal war dance. Albeit one with more accusations of Nazism in accordance with Godwin’s law (as the length of any online discussion increases, the probability of one of the participants bringing up Hitler approaches 1).
And then some douche ruins it by making a thoughtful, considered and insightful comment.
But ignore them, clever, sensible people that they are. Also ignore the fact that if you just let some things go you’ll probably be happier because all this angst can’t be good for your health. Go away, have a think, be open-minded and then decide whether or not you want to form an opinion about whatever you’re being told you need to hold an opinion about.
Alternatively, go comments hunting and focus on the more goggle-eyed paranoia and cathartic stress relief (no one’s ever really that angry about windfarm policy but it does give a good excuse for some of that volcanic anger you wanted to direct at your boss/spouse). It’s funnier than fart jokes and it’ll make up for the day’s little irritants.
Then think of that next time someone asks you: ‘ere, whochoo fink of that, then?
And remember Mark Twain.