Politicians should be paid peanuts

Friday 27th June, 2008

The reliably interesting Simon Wardley wrote yesterday about his frustrations at mis-use of anti-terror powers, as well as the hypocritical behaviour by MPs, trying to award themselves 40% pay rises while asking everyone else to show restraint in the face of inflation.

I totally agree, and propose a solution. I propose that MP salaries should be reduced to the minimum wage, and have their finances made entirely public (as in published, in real time).

Sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it. Hear me out though. I think it makes sense.

My hypothesis is that the effect of this would be to reduce the number of career politians. Career politians are afraid to disobey the party whips, or admit mistakes, since only a career of mediocrity is a safe bet. There are some exceptions (I’m in no way affiliated and have only voted Lib Dem once) but I’d be happy to make charitable donations to support the ones I choose.

My hope would be that the decrease in career politicians would be balanced out by an increase the number of politians who come to the field from successful careers in other disciplines… head teachers, scientists, doctors, soldiers, engineers, and leaders from business.

I think that would be a Parliament to be proud of.

The Internet Makes Us Faster

Thursday 26th June, 2008

There’s a lot of discussion at the moment as to whether the Internet makes us (more) stupid… or to be less sensationalist, whether our brains are adapting to fit new behaviours enabled by new technology, such as Google and Wikipedia.

I’ve certainly noticed my tolerance for reading long passages of text has decreased while I’ve been a regular internet user. I’ve also noticed that I can increase it again by changing my behaviour. If I spend less time online and more time reading books for example, the effect goes away.

I notice the inverse effect when observing people using websites. Obsessive web-heads skim read, only paying attention to functional elements and labels such as buttons, tabs, etc. When reading online, they tend to skip to bullet points, quotes, bold text, or specific words that they’re looking for. Less frequent web users can behave quite differently, reading the page from the start like a book.

This is all anecdotal so doesn’t prove anything, but it indicates to me that because we’re used to reading pages with plenty of irrelevent or redundant copy, we’ve taught our eyes to find what we need more quickly… just like we taught our eyes not to see banners adverts. When we go back to books, we just have to learn to relax that aggressive visual culling of copy and let the words flow more linearly.

It’ll be interesting to see whether other effects develop over the next few years due to the availability of new high-bandwidth content, social tools, and location-driven mobile services.