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The Joys of Watching the World Cup at Work

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
June 24, 2014

I’ve been a World Cup enthusiast for longer than I care to admit, but I still don’t consider myself any kind of expert on soccer.

I have, however, become an expert on watching World Cup matches during work hours.

I’m taking the risk of getting fired for that last sentence because somebody needs to point out that we’re presently experiencing the most watch-at-work-friendly World Cup ever. (Even the cultural authority Google Doodles has tacitly acknowledged as much. See below.) And it’s all thanks to the technological evolution in the ways we watch, communicate, and bond.

(Google Search)

My Cup obsession began at a time when catching every game meant watching a fair number of them on Spanish-language cable. By the time I entered the work force and moved to New York in the mid-1990s, the Cup was more thoroughly covered in all the languages I’m fluent in (English) through cable packages available in many homes and not a few sports bars.

The problem: Depending on the host nation, crucial Cup games often unfold at some moment inconveniently situated between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. U.S. time. In the old days, the only solution involved physically sneaking out of the office and decamping for two hours or more with workplace confederates — almost certainly in a place where beer is sold.

This was always fun, but side effects included 15 voicemails from the boss and the need for a short nap before answering any of them.

Gradually, as connection speeds improved, the Internet became a plausible alternative. But access to any particular match could be a crapshoot. And, even in the best scenario, it’s not easy to follow a contest in one browser window while convincingly interacting with something that resembles work elsewhere on one’s desktop.

This year is different. Crucially: The iPad, and the entire tablet market that it helped popularized, have gone from novelty to routine tool — with a fairly robust app ecosystem to support their use. I can’t set up a TV on my desk. But an iPad? No biggie. And those of you in more Orwellian workplaces can even resort to a smartphone.

Yahoo has already told you how to watch the tournament online, so I’ll just add that my extensive, uh, testing has determined that the Watch ESPN app works very nicely.

And, happily, soccer is well suited to continuous partial attention. Zone in on work, and the occasional bursts of crowd excitement prompt a shifted glance to innumerable replays. If work is under control and it’s time to “look busy,” take some minutes to luxuriate in the athleticism and precision of the most popular sport in the world.

Meanwhile, the culture and tools around instant messaging and social media and even company-mandated internal communication systems have made it way easier to bond with fellow Cup fanatics in real time.

I won’t out any virtual confederate co-worker here. But I’ll offer a social media example. A slow point in my workday overlapped with the Uruguay-England match recently, and I informed Twitter that in my opinion the Uruguayan jerseys are simply too tight.

Unlike the 99 percent of my tweets that are totally ignored, this one quickly sparked a sympathetic (and hilarious) conversation — it was almost like connecting with a random work-shirking stranger in a bar.

Look, I won’t lie. It’s still more fun to play outright hooky with a band of similarly reckless colleagues who don’t mind leaving their desks empty and their phones ringing to watch a competition between the national teams of two countries none of us has visited, all in hopes of collectively screaming “Gooooooooooaaaaaaaal!” Particularly if there’s also beer.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we? There’s work to be done. And, as never before, we have at our disposal the tools to look like we’re doing it — even as we’re IMing our secret World Cup fan clique, drunk only on the excitement of any given contest: “Gooooooooooaaaaaaaal!”

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter, @notrobwalker. RSS lover? Paste this URL into your reader of choice: https://www.yahoo.com/tech/author/rob-walker/rss.