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Go ahead and watch the eclipse! You’re not going to cause a productivity crisis.

The U.S. economy can handle March Madness. It can definitely deal with Monday’s momentary darkness.

eclipse-sign-2017 Scott Olson / Getty Images
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Monday’s solar eclipse is a big deal because total solar eclipses are rare. The last time people in the U.S. were able to see one was in the 1970s.

Much less rare: Press releases from HR firm Challenger Gray, announcing that an event many people in the U.S. are interested in will cost U.S. employers lots of money.

Here’s one they sent last week, announcing that Monday’s eclipse will cost $694 million in diminished productivity — “much to many employers’ dismay” — because people will spend time talking about the solar eclipse, reading about the solar eclipse, or even leaving their desks and venturing outside and attempting to see the solar eclipse.

If you don’t keep track of press releases from Challenger Gray, you might think this is a Very Big Deal: All that productivity! Kaput!

Don’t worry. Turns out Americans piss away their productivity all the time. And we’re still here.

In March, we frittered away $2.1 billion in productivity watching college basketball. Last fall, we burnt $17 billion in productivity by playing fantasy football. Christmas shopping from the offices costs another $450 million. Etc.

At this point you may wonder why more people aren’t alarmed about the frequent, epic Productivity Losses Affecting America. Or, you may be thinking that Challenger Gray may not be that serious about the way it estimates Productivity Losses.

I’m going with the latter.

For starters, that’s because Challenger Gray’s methodology for this stuff doesn’t change: It guesstimates how much time Americans Spend Doing Something, then uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to guesstimate what that amounts to in hourly wages. That’s it.

Equally important: As Jack Shafer wrote for Slate, all the way back in 2006 (Challenger Gray has been at this for a long time!), Challenger Gray’s methodology assumes that workers are working every minute that they’re at work. And that diversions like March Madness and eclipses are the only time they lift their gaze from their workstations.

Much more likely: Time Americans spend watching buzzer beaters and eclipses is time they would have spent screwing around on Facebook, or whatever.

Speaking of Facebook:

But give it up to Challenger Gray: Attaching a Big Number to an Event Many People Are Interested In is an excellent way to get people to write about you. Can’t hate the player. Especially when you’re playing the game.

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