I was supposed to go to a meeting today. For the most part that’s the kind of activity that makes up the day, or at least is a common enough occurrence that it isn’t worth specifically mentioning. The only positive bit about the meetings I’m usually required to sit through is that 95% of them are held somewhere in the same building I find myself inhabiting four days a week and require minimal travel. Today’s meeting, one of those that makes up the other 5%, was being hosted elsewhere.
This meeting in particular was being held far enough elsewhere that attending in person would mean losing my parking spot in the middle of the day, finding a spot on the other side of our lovely cantonment, and then fighting for spot back at “home station” later in the day when the meeting ended. Mercifully they decided to provide a dial in number so skittering hither and yon wasn’t necessary.
Today’s meeting is what I’ve taken to calling a small victory. Victory, in this case, was tempered by the fact that the room in which the meeting was physically held has one speaker phone and possibly the worst acoustics of any individual room on the planet. The net result of this was only being able to hear approximately four words out of every seven. In fairness, though, that still doesn’t make it anything close to the worst meeting I’ve ever endured… so maybe it’s still a victory or possibly a minor defeat. It’s increasingly hard to tell the difference
I’ve said it before but it seems to bear repeating: If you call my desk five minutes before the end of the day there’s a good chance I’m not going to answer – a) Because there’s absolutely nothing I’m working on that can be discussed in less than five minutes and b) Because it’s just rude to delay someone who’s already put in a full day for anything less than a full blown (and legitimate) emergency. I hold the same line on email too – if the building isn’t burning down and it requires more than a yes or no answer, you’re going to wait until there’s time on the clock to provide a complete and well-reasoned response.
In case you think this is just about managing expectations at the office it really isn’t. I have no problem at all letting the phone ring at home if it’s not a convenient time to have a conversation. My Gmail box will occasionally go untended for a day or two. Hard as it is to believe sometimes Facebook posts even go unliked and messages even go unreturned if I don’t have anything of substance to add to the conversation or the time with which to attend them.
All this technology surrounding us is supposed to be a convenience, you see. It’s supposed to let us engaged on our own schedule and in our own way. Instead of using these tools to manage our schedules and actions, many seem perfectly willing to let their scheduled be managed by the tools. As much as I love my iPhone, make no mistake that it is the servant and I the master. It’s the only reasonable way I’ve ever found to even attempt keeping things in their proper perspective.
All of that’s probably just a longer than necessary way of saying don’t call or email expecting great and wonderful operational insights at 3:55 PM. You’re going to be disappointed. Along the same lines, you probably shouldn’t bother trying to reach me between the hours of 10PM and 5AM for anything, really. My ringer is off because even if there is an emergency there probably isn’t a damned thing I can do about it before the sun comes up. Even if it is an actual emergency, it’s probably best for everyone if I’m allowed to face it after a few hours of sleep anyway.
Priorities people, priorities.
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.