Photo by Paul Graham.
Yesterday, it was reported that the country's unemployed are having to complete a meaningless internet personality test or potentially risk losing their benefits. Bloggers who have tried the psychometric questionnaire – called "My Strengths" – have proved that its basic algorithm either doesn’t exist or has been written by a moron more deserving of joblessness than anyone being forced to take it. Entering two, completely opposed set of answers will often cough up the same result, which come in the form of five "strengths" that users are then encouraged to take on board and exhibit when applying for their next role.
The idea comes from Cameron’s nudge unit, which sounds like a desperate ploy to raise funds for the country through pub fruit machines, but is actually an attempt to make people more socially aware when it comes to money. Like a lot of initiatives set up in recent years, the questionnaire seems to be less of an attempt to empower users, than another loophole for them to jump through in order to provide the government with data.
Nothing new there then, I guess, but what’s particularly weird about this questionnaire is the way that it’s been written.
Let's take a closer look at some of the questions or statements. They read like the worst kind of Totnes Earth Mother coffee shop psychobabble, which is weird, given this came from a Tory government. But then I guess if there are two groups of people who were still being breastfed and having their bums wiped for them well into their mid-teens, it's hippie babies and Tory babies.
Case in point, statement 1:
Surely even someone sitting on millions would agree that this statement is "Very much unlike them". Why? Because even if you haven't got a paying job, everyone in Britain's still a professional cynic. Are you always stopping to gawp over rays of sunlight bouncing off windows, shaking your head in disbelief at the mystery of being? Does the government think that, between having their food tokens stamped and cash-converting their kids, Britain’s most needy are overturning logs outside of their houses to contemplate the fragile mini-beast?
“Sometimes there is just so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it... and my heart is just going to... cave in,” the mother wheezes, hoisting the pram from the bus as a sanitary towel floats out of the window of a passing Subaru Impreza. I mean it’s possible, but kind of unlikely.
Then, after a couple of generic questions devoted to sussing out your work ethic, we get this:
Presumably, this is another question to test how interested you are in the world – which is fair but totally misguided. There was a time before the internet when going to museums meant you were the kind of person who wanted to educate yourself. It’s saying something that the people behind this test think you can’t do that today without having membership to the Natural History Museum. Which, let’s face it, is mostly just filled these days with sleazy American guys taking girls on cheap dates and kids running around the dinosaur bit hammering away at pointless "interactive" buttons. Also, short of living in a museum, I’m struggling to see how you could visit one without going out of your way.
Think about how many other ways you could phrase this statement: “I put myself first”; “I’m not a team player”; “I hate other people”; “If this was Titanic, I’d be Billy Zane’s character refusing to let women and children board the lifeboats first...” I can’t decide if this is just the Nudge boys bringing out the Oxbridge phrasebook, or something they’ve inherited from team yoga sessions. Either way, it’s not what anyone who’s had to go through the incessant bureaucracy of claiming benefits wants to hear; and perhaps that’s the desired effect.
Presumably what they're suggesting here is that if you are fat, you’re also lazy and weak-willed, and if you have anorexic tendencies you will double up as a top employee.
Which is completely reasonable. I don't know about you, but I can't see anything wrong with a government putting that message out there at all.
I don’t know anyone besides Carol Vordeman (I don’t actually know Carol Vorderman) who has achieved excellence in maths since leaving school. How would you do that, anyway? Be really good at giving shop owners the right change? Perhaps the guys over at Nudge are suggesting that we should acknowledge excellence in other people. I mean, I give Stephen Hawking a nod when he pops up on TV, but would I describe the feeling I get in those moments as being thrilled?
No. In fact, I’ve probably never been thrilled in my whole life and certainly not when I was in the process of claiming benefit money.
Unless of course this whole thing is an elaborate ploy to fish out the privileged claimants ("So she
visited a museum in the past month – quick, let’s get her!"), but I seriously doubt it.
Somewhere towards the end, this thing transforms into a scene from Bedknobs and Broomsticks, resorting to phrases that even your grandparents haven’t used for 50 years. I was half-expecting questions 40-42 to be things like: “If you got into a bit of argy-bargy with a chum from the workhouse would you make it cushty lickety-split?” or, “Could I spend a penny on your tuppence if I cross your palm with diddly squat, ma'am?”
I can only imagine that this is the language used by people who hang out in museums these days. Wiling away their time contemplating the curiousness of art and life. Perhaps the guys who answered "Very much unlike me" to the next statement can tell us:
Does a sweet spag bol count? Stop for a second and ask yourself whether you’ve created a thing of beauty in the last year. Then stop and ask yourself whether that has anything to do with your fucking job hunt.
Follow Nathalie on Twitter: @NROlah