Easily distracted by too many apps, too many meetings, and too much asparagus

Nothing like a steaming bowl of freshly picked spaghetti


Something for the Weekend, Sir? No, not wabbit. Not even chocolate eggs. I'm hunting wild asparagus.

This is about as inventive as it comes for an April Fool's hoax in lockdown Europe. A local newspaper yesterday morning ran an article offering tips (ho ho) for those who fancy foraging for their spring asparagus in the wild – or at least within the regulation 10km radius from their front doors.

Come to think of it, given that all other news outlets here announced that they would skip their traditional poissons d'avril this time around, the story is probably not a hoax after all. It's quite possible that an asparagus hunting season is a genuine thing and that the not-at-all-suspiciously named food expert "Jean Burger" who declared it open is real too. I mean, it's not exactly up to the standard of the BBC's 1957 Swiss spaghetti harvest or Swedish TV's 1962 demonstration of how to convert a black-and-white television into a colour set using nylon stockings.

Lockdown makes you hunt for more than asparagus: you become desperate for distraction in all things, of course. Sharp marketing operations take advantage of this, and I don't just mean Netflix. A very special shout-out goes to much-beleaguered beer brand Corona which hopes to revive our interest in domestic lime-slicing by developing sustainable bottle packaging fabricated from surplus barley straw.

Well, they had to do something, didn't they? A simple, unfortunate naming coincidence 16 months ago has subliminally and unfairly tainted its brand association. Despite the rise in alcoholism during the pandemic, nobody has been panic-buying multipacks of Corona. Distraction in the form of barley boxes seems as good an answer as any.

How the company must wish the WHO had dubbed it Budweiservirus instead. Me, I wish they'd called it Bogroll-19.

Cultural history such as April Fools from years gone by is just one example of distraction. Another favourite, at any time of the year, is to take a look back at how futurists decades ago imagined we'd be living today. As they say, futurists rush in even where angel investors fear to tread. It's good to be reminded that outwardly sensible-looking people could keep a straight face while jerking us off us that by the 21st century we'd be wearing edible clothes, commuting to work by air and getting the family robot to walk the dog.

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To that end, Progressive Recruitment seems to be suffering from its own craving for distraction this week by designing fake billboard posters for oft-predicted inventions that still await an inventor. I'm not sure about the propeller houses and teleporters but the piss-taking about flying cars and Martian vacations are spot-on. These last two are perennial favourites with conmen, loons, and bollo kings alike.

The seemingly unstoppable rise in the popularity of dating apps is yet more evidence of a populace seeking distraction in the most pointless ways. I mean, what's the point of setting up a date with someone you're not allowed to meet in person? Despite this, figures reported at finaria.it indicate that the Tinder app alone was downloaded 90 million times last year, its in-app purchases raking in $1.4bn. Looking across all dating apps, some 72 million new users opened a box of tissues and began frantically swiping in 2020.

Well, maybe not all: it could be that people are downloading these dating apps absent-mindedly. Come on, we've all downloaded crap in a moment of weakness when you think to yourself "ooh that looks useful" before changing your mind after suffering the 17th animated ad in the first two minutes after launch. But you're just as absent-minded when it comes to uninstalling the crap again.

I read somewhere this week that individuals are risking their mental health by installing too many apps on their smartphones. This, apparently, is stressful and counterproductive. Or at least it would be if you bothered to run them more than once – which I don't.

This week, seeking a bit of distraction, I decided to clean up my spare handset for exclusive use as a self-contained remote control slash media player for the dimwit speaker in my office. This involved uninstalling apps that had no business to be there i.e. virtually all of them. I was astounded at the shite I discovered. Apps for launching other apps; apps that count how many apps I have; apps that warn me when I am running pointless apps; that sort of thing.

The problem is that I hesitate at every long press. Should I really uninstall? Who knows, I might need that app one day when stranded due to my flying car breaking down while on a Martian vacation. The app's not doing any harm, I tell myself, I'll just leave it there a bit longer just in case.

Of course, I ended up deleting precisely none of them. During the process, I actually installed a bunch of new ones, ran out of storage and had to shunt my media files on a microSD card. De-pruning my un-SIMed smartphone was not a total waste of my time, you will be pleased to hear: I made sure I did all this during a Zoom call. Multitasking, I think they call it.

Don't get me wrong. I love Zoom. And Meet, Teams, GoTo, Webex, and the rest. I'm a huge fan of being able to see my colleagues' faces. It warms me to the cockles to get that personal connection when we're so far apart. I also find it immensely satisfying as a matter of Zoom camaraderie to have sight of their bedrooms, dining rooms and kitchens in the background, which I meticulously screengrab and enlarge later so I can read what's on their bookshelves, evaluate their choice of wall art, and check out their cooking gadgets. You really know who you're dealing with when you know they're desperate enough to buy a Wilko breadmaker.

I keep my own webcam switched off, mind. No, I'm not one of the Great Covid Trouserless. It's just that there's no need for colleagues to go prying into my personal space. Who do they think they are? The nosey bastards.

You'd think they'd have better things to do with their time.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He apologises for the distracted nature of this week's column. He had originally written a column about last Wednesday's World Backup Day but he accidentally deleted it. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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