I work for a guy who likes to think his time as a system administrator in the late 1990s qualifies him as an authority on issues of office technology. If those of us with a passing awareness of tech, this is a very bad situation. It means we’re in a position of being forced to agree with ideas and recommendations that are not only expensive, but also doomed to sink into the befuddled mire of advanced middle-age angst over technology that is one of the defining characteristics of our “leadership cadre.”
Two years ago, we were instructed to buy two dozen webcams and run a test with our agency’s behind-the-firewall proprietary knockoff version of Skype. The test was, as I described it at the time, less than successful and we recommended shelving the project. Most of our test bunnies couldn’t figure out how to plug in their cameras and of the ones that did, only a handful managed to actually use them. I’m pretty sure they just ate the microphones we sent them. To be fair, I should point out that this failure wasn’t completely the fault of the doddering soon-to-be retirees. The network infrastructure in our building was something less than robust enough to handle the “load” of several simultaneous streaming audio/video connections. It was sort of fun to say something, run to the office across the hall and see yourself “in real time,” but we decided that wasn’t going to be a real plus-up to our collective productivity. After the abysmal initial test, I assumed the idea was left to die quietly in desk drawers and file cabinets around the country. As is so often the case, I was wrong.
I discovered last week that we ordered 50 more webcams to be issued to all of our field offices to “improve communication” and “facilitate meeting online,” since the organization doesn’t have money for our traditional cross-country boondoggles these days. Now, if I had even the slightest notion that any of these devices was actually going to be used, I’m all for outfitting every computer in the office. It would be great to have one official feature on my work computer that I’ve been using for free from Google for years. My concern is only that we already find it nearly impossible to get our “leaders” to pick up the 100 year old pice of tech that’s already on their desk and talk to one another or call in for a teleconference. I have no idea what makes us think we’ll be able to get them to use “magic” to talk across the intertubes?
Then again, it might be fun to watch them try.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.