The internet has ended the art of goofing off

Here's how idlers can buy extra time - if they ever get round to it

Richard Cobbett

Sometimes, the dog really does eat your homework. That's my excuse anyway, as I hide in a basement cupboard, frantically writing this column that I've been telling the Editor has been finished for the last week or so.

On Friday, it was merely late, but it was a Friday after all, and it needed a few little tweaks. It could wait until after the weekend.

On Monday, it was both finished and perfect… but I accidentally left it on my computer at home. Tuesday: oops, corrupted archive. Why a corrupted archive?

It's tougher to open up and poke around in than a corrupted text document, especially when dealing with a suspicious and persistent Editor who increasingly thinks you have weasel DNA in your ancestry. Hmm. I hope he doesn't read this…

I think most people, on some level, have mixed feelings whenever the world takes new steps to make sure we're all doing what we're meant to be doing. Keycards that clock us into the office in the morning, surveillance cameras, ISPs tracking our clicks, and so on.

We might approve of, say, punctuality or security and openness, but in practice, what we really want is for other people to abide by them.

Look at any government for proof of that: how is it that MP's expenses forms can go through with just a signature, while our tax forms demand page after page of endless blather?

The standard shrug is along the lines of 'if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear', which sounds fine – except that by nature, our initial impulse when things go wrong isn't usually to fess up and take our medicine. No. The sane person instantly deflects the blame, rationalises the act and tries to wriggle out of it through even the smallest aperture.

Just ask any policeman who's ever been ticked off by a busted driver for handing out speeding tickets while serial killers run free. And stop.

You too are a weasel

If you're even now saying 'oh, but that's completely different' – congratulations! You too are a weasel. Step over here to collect your ceremonial twitchy whiskers, tail and book of surprisingly ineffective excuses. Oh, and mind out for those half pounds of tuppenny rice and treacle in the corner.

Things could get messy. When it comes to weaselling, computers are the enemy. They're binary creatures able to accept only 'yes' or 'no', with no room for the far more important 'Yes, as long as you consider…' or 'No, but…' that make the world go round. And it's only becoming worse over time.

Services like Gmail mean never being able to say that your company's spam filters ate the attachment. Always-on machines and file servers mean that the old days of any deadline having an extra night's 'retrieving' reprieve are a thing of the past.

Honestly, it's getting so bad, you can't even get away with the old 'my internet was down' routine, not when your boss/colleague/friend/other bastard can hit a couple of keys and not only tell you that it was up, but what music you were listening to, courtesy of some Twitter/Facebook plug-in. Clearly, these are dark times.

One way of fixing this would be for the world to harden up and for all of us to mutually agree that we've had a good run, it was fun being able to offer plausible excuses for naughtiness, but we're all now members of a society where we live up to our responsibilities like good boys and girls.

Rebuilding the weasel technology

On the other hand, we could try something that might actually work. Our weasel technology must be rebuilt – weaker, slower, more fallible – until it once again provides an active defence against these so-called 'people who pay our wages' and 'people who trust us to do the right thing'. Imagine the possibilities!

Fire alarms that can be set off by iPhone, distracting everyone just as they ask for your contribution! Invisible ink printers so that you can hand your boss your 'work', only to have it mysteriously vanish by the time they sit down to actually read it! Buses and trains that guarantee to be delayed, giving everyone on board a couple of hours grace period to sleep/finish their work/beat their high score in Peggle! Utopia!

Best of all, I see services that draw on fellow weasels to, at a moment's notice, seed places like Facebook with messages like 'Sorry, I accidentally put up a photo from the last party by mistake, the one you only just made because you were in the office pulling a 48-hour shift to get that important project in on time and under-budget, even though you haven't had a raise for five years, you handsome devil, you.'

There's just one problem with all these services. Since weasels will be building them (for who else can we trust) we probably shouldn't expect any of them immediately. After all, there's always so much good stuff on TV. It'll all be sorted out though. Honest. First thing tomorrow. Friday at the latest.

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