Article // Pure & simplistic: the problem with politics

Today, I will mostly be mourning my attention span. There are a great many things in this world that are so full of knowledge and enlightenment blah blah etc whatever, but I can’t access it, because it’s locked behind the protruding middle finger of obscure language. James Joyce’s Ulysses; everything ever written by or about Proust; The Telegraph; my cat’s meows; algebraic logic – the list goes on. And I’m never going to find out whatever they’re trying to say, because I cannot be bothered to try and find out. But I reckon I can tell when my cat is saying something homophobic.

That’s the way it used to be in the good old days, weren’t it my son? Just picture that warmly-lit vignetted memory of a time when your attention span had to match your intellect. Now my attention span lasts the time I have between 1) Vistaprint sending me an email offering discounts on business cards even though I’m UNEMPLOYED, 2) a Snapchat of my mate Anya holding a dead fish, or 3) someone’s been beheaded and BBC News thinks I’m psychologically stable enough to handle that information. I now find it hard to read a book. It’s a wonder you’re even reading this. I can’t read a website unless the text is broken up in to tiny chunks with subheadings; a pre-digested regurgitated disintegrated rehydrated Smash text, yum yum.

The world of the screen is shredding up our memories and intellectual competency in to itsy bitsy pieces. A study reported in the Guardian said that Kindle readers have more difficulty recalling the plot of a book than people who read regular books. Paul Dolan’s proper paper book, Happiness by Design (also available in the Kindle Store), discusses studies that found increased use of iPhones and iPads are associated with a rise in memory loss in children. Mental chicken oriental, mate. Because we have such ickle attention spans, it’s suddenly become very important what information we are presented with, because it’s likely to be the only bit of information we’ll remember.

So if I’m in the off-license picking up a tin of ginger beer (long live Old Jamaican), and I briefly see the Daily Express’s headline about “4 million scrounging families in Britain”, on my way home I’ll start looking at people who are poorer than me, and my lip will start to twitch in to a sneer. A juicy headline like that is shocking and sordid and exciting, and more importantly, it’s memorable. Simplification sells. Facts and balanced rational academic debate just aren’t bringing sexy back.

So I reckon that this is a major reason why politics is folding in on itself like an unplugged inflatable advertising man. Politics is well complicated init. How to keep a whole society with myriad shades of grey afloat is a very complex and difficult issue to address. Most of us don’t have the time to read manifestos (I do – unemployed), and so the media tells us the bullet points. In so doing, the media can choose to emphasise or hide certain bullet points. Naughty.

Mr Advert

It’s very difficult to have an intelligent discussion about politics without it being influenced by the media’s dangerous simplification of complex issues. Apparently the Labour government are solely responsible for a global economic collapse, when the entire context needs to be considered, right? You can’t deny the relevance of dear ol Maggie’s deregulation of the banks in 1986, or the housing bubbles in the US, China, Australia, and a tonne of other countries. It’s actually quite aggressive to eclipse out certain parts of the truth, sheer off the complicated context to communicate your own message.

And because no one is communicating objectively, we don’t believe anything anyone says. It’s this artistic license with the truth that means George Osborne can be cock-out confident enough to say that Britain is “walking tall again”, whatever that means. The number of food banks in 2010 was 66, and there are now   421, with over 900,000 people given 3 days’ emergency food last year alone. But they all walked very tall on their way in and out of the food bank. Posture may have improved – maybe that’s what he meant. “More people have jobs in Britain than ever before”, says Cameron. Yes, everyone has a job now, thanks to more disregard for workers rights, which led to the zero-hour contract. Would David Cameron live on a zero-hours contract? “Er- ah- oo- eh-”

Cameron Zero

Why have leaders’ debates? Because of our failing attention spans. Their policies are static, unchanged in their manifestos. It’s an awkward pantomime of politicians shouting buzzwords at each other; a cymbal-smashing wind-up monkey dance for the media to try and get us interested in politics. What it’s actually quite hard to remember is that it doesn’t matter how Ed Miliband eats a bacon sandwich. It’s all fodder getting in the way of the cold hard facts.

Politics needs to expand its complexity beyond soundbites. Politics has got to admit to being boring. It’s this over-simplification and deceit that has led to this mass political apathy. The more politics tries to play up to the media, the more facts are obscured, the more they have to be asked the same question again and again by one interviewer, the more they stick to their PR-friendly script, the less we trust them.

Media! Politics! Play nicely please or you won’t be getting any Vienetta. You will just have to watch me eat it. Right now. At 10am. (Unemployed).

12 April 2015



  1. CretCin

    Is it politics that needs to change or is it the attitude of the general public?


    • I think we need a multi-faceted approach, changing the technology we use, our interaction with the media and the way politicians communicate with us. My master plan is that once the tax loopholes are closed, Apple will refuse to trade in our country, and in 2 years when everyone’s iPhone wears out, we’ll suddenly all be iPhone free, free of notifications, and then our attention spans might start to grow back. The question of cause and effect is still a difficult one with regards to politics vs the general public’s preferences, but I believe a lot of our behaviour is dictated by the design of our environment, and that power is both ours and the politicians’. That’s my two pence. What’s yours?


      • CretCin

        I think the issue with our attention spans is because we are adapting to the technology we use, rather than making the technology work for us. Until one or the other becomes smarter in general, we’re going to have these problems. Maybe if everyone quit Facebook overnight, those Silicon Valley software engineers might actually go and do something ‘useful’ with their skills, like have your phone fact-check a news story or something like that.

        What I think would be nice vis-à-vis politics is someone creating an anti-satire web show: an interesting and informative apolitical walkthrough to party policies with a breakdown of expected pros/cons and researched potential effects (provided by London think-tank du jour probably). I reckon if it was made freely available and had a good sense of humour, it could be pretty popular AND useful. The public (especially us young’uns surprisingly) needs to learn to value its political agency, and in doing that people will make more responsible decisions. Once politicians see people voting based on the potential outcomes of their policies they will be more likely to think carefully about their decisions.

        Really though it’s hard to say. Life is so bloody complicated isn’t it?

        On a side note: It’s a shame the Lib Dems played Russian roulette because I think they chime closest with the younger generations. Might have changed the tone of this election.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes exactly – we need to rewind technology and make sure it enables us rather than diminishes us. Have you ever read You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier? It’s awfully good, it is. He talks about how music is reduced to fit in to the MIDI note format, which doesn’t recognise note curvature or the nuances of vocals, just like the concept of friendship is reduced by Facebook’s use of the word ‘Friend’. The state of technology is certainly deadening areas of our competencies as we reduce ourselves to the design of the software we use.

    Super smashing idea! Educational and funny. That’s what I reckon Russell Brand is doing – weaving in information and jokes to make it interesting. Some force has to be created to counter the perpetual pattern of the political party with the biggest marketing budget winning every election.

    Life is bloody complicated indeed. I feel a pang of melancholy every time I see the Lib Dems because they just don’t enter my day-to-day consciousness, and they should do, because I agree with a sizeable chunk of their ideas.

    So, let’s make this anti-satire web show.


    • CretCin

      I haven’t heard of the guy before. He seems super interesting. Like a Richard Stallman who listens exclusively to trance. Man, cyberpunk was so cool.

      I’m not much of a fan of the Trews really. He’s got his heart in the right place but he ends up being just plain wrong about many things from what I can tell. Sometimes he doesn’t go far enough with the research and stops at the statistics because they support his point of view. But it’s a laugh right, and it actually somewhat engages (even though it encourages disengagement) people with politics. Brooker’s Weekly Wipe is a bit closer in that it is apolitical, but is still quite satirical. Haven’t watched it in a while because…I’m really not sure. Probably the attention span playing up again.

      Yeah let’s. I propose we call it Colour Wars.


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