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.
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-”
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