I am a procrastinator. This does not make me special – in fact, I think it’s quite common. I’ve read an interesting theory on procrastination; that those who think they’re smart and capable are afraid to fail in the arena of ideas, and thus fall back on a defense akin to “Well if I had written that novel it would have been great, but I procrastinated and never did, so whatever.” I think this is painfully poignant but not what I want to talk about today.
Last night I spent many hours reading the comments of strangers on a very hot, contemporary topic – the podcast Serial. It’s a phenomenal piece of long-form investigative journalism cross-bred with the sensibilities of fiction; nothing like it has been done before, so far as I can tell. The fact that a vibrant online community has sprung up to debate the tiniest pieces of testimony from a murder case that was ostensibly solved 15 years ago is itself somewhat amazing, but even moreso, I’m compelled and repulsed by my capacity to submerge myself as a spectator into this online pub of speculation.
This was not the first time I’ve delved deeply into the comments section of a popular website, nor, I’m sure, will it be the last. The seductive qualities are too much for me to resist, or at least, to pretend to want to resist. Somehow, the discussion proved more compelling than the actual product, even though I knew none of the people debating, nor did I contribute even once myself.
Don’t get me wrong; I think the podcast is great. It’s an original concept and it’s masterful storytelling. If you haven’t yet listened I’d highly recommend it. (Be sure to start at the first episode, though; this is serial storytelling, after all.) But it was the comments that got me jazzed up – the insight and meticulous approach to detail, from postulation to refutation, proposal and rebuff, the emotional passion of the whole thing. It had the ring of people discussing a much-loved piece of fiction, but the stakes are very real – there is a man behind bars this very moment who resolutely maintains his innocence in this crime. Suddenly every theory, every shred of evidence (or lack thereof) is of magnified significance.
So that’s how I passed some hours last night. I did some of what I needed to do – my obligations – but they were shelved soon enough for this mental indulgence. One could make the argument that at least I was reading, but ultimately, I was doing it as a form of entertainment more than anything. Sure, I’ve firmed up my grasp on the details of the case to which I’ve been exposed, and formed some ideas of my own (which quickly leads to dismissing the opinions of those I disagree with, which is insidious enough in isolation), but have I achieved anything? Has light been shone, has the unknown been brought to the surface, even in my own mind? I want to offer a resolute yes, but I know the real answer is at best murky. I’m slurping mental pablum in place of authentic insight – eating the ideas of others in place of forming my own.
This, I think, is the worst form of procrastination, and it’s one to which I’m all too susceptible. Perhaps the shame of realization will help direct my actions in future. One can only hope to learn from one’s mistakes – to take in evidence and re-evaluate what one thinks one knows. Funnily enough, this sentiment lies at the heart of Serial, so maybe it’s fitting that I so easily got lost.