2021iii17, Wednesday: A bad bill.

The government's shameful misuse of the Sarah Everard affair to shore up support for an illiberal bill. And why video shouldn't supplant the chance to walk and talk.

Short thought: Briefly, because others know more and write better about it: the UK government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is well-described by Joshua Rozenberg and David Allen Green. Both indicate the  illiberal nature of the bill’s provisions for controlling protest - and mention the power given to the Home Secretary elsewhere in the Bill to define (as she wills) what “serious disruption”, a trigger for police control of assemblies and for offences if people don’t obey the police in such circumstances, is to mean. I mention this only as an example of what many would see (myself included) as the increasing misuse of secondary legislation to define - in this case - offences incurring significant jail terms without proper parliamentary oversight.

As a sideline, I noted the attempt by the Home Secretary in the House of Commons earlier this week to describe Labour opposition to the bill as being “anti-women”, in the context of the Sarah Everard case and its implications. I don’t normally go this far, but I find this both deeply dishonest and wholly scandalous. The bill increases jail terms for some sexual offences by reducing or abolishing early release, certainly. But it does absolutely nothing - and, to be clear, I’ve heard no indication that this is on the government’s agenda - to fund more investigation, prosecution or the courts such that more cases actually reach a conclusion in a timely fashion. Or, indeed, to examine whether - this recent court case notwithstanding - anything is wrong on a systemic basis with how the police or CPS deal with violence against women.

For shame.

Someone is right on the internet: Till 2015, I’d worked in open-plan spaces for a decade and a half. I hated them. They’re exhausting, loud, inimical to creativity, bug-ridden and only save money if you ignore the immense productivity hit they cause.

So my first day at Bank of Montreal that year was wonderful. I was led to an actual office. With a door that closed. And told it was mine.

Actually, the quiet and seclusion was only part of the reason for rejoicing. Just as important, for me, was that I could finally walk and talk without bothering anyone.

I know I’m not alone in this. When I’m on the phone, I wander. Even if the space is tiny - my office at home is less than 2m wide, so walking is essentially three steps, turn, three steps back - I find it an immense aid to thought. And when the weather’s nice and there’s no-one around, I’m very happy to have an in-depth, technical conversation in the park, or the country, or the seaside. Anywhere where I can put one foot in front of the other.

So while I love videoconferencing, I also hate it. Because it’s become, for some, the norm. Why talk on the phone when you can Zoom, or Teams?

As this piece notes, because video imposes additional cognitive load. It’s unnatural: the brain expects wideband when it sees someone (body language, a sense of space, etc) and instead has to focus solely on a face. And equally, forcing all one’s expression solely through the face, with that awkward sense of how one looks in the tiny thumbnail in the corner of the screen, is also a stressor.

So, please. By all means, let’s turn the cameras on when they’re needed.

But when they’re not, let’s take advantage of the options that a more remote work style allows.

And let me wander.