After being more or less terminally ill for several months, Simpson Burgess Nash’s computer server finally breathed its last on Thursday, leaving us without a computer network on Thursday & Friday. As of this morning we will be in / on (?) the cloud, which sounds faintly angelic but one suspects is more prosaic than it sounds.
So 48 working hours with no internet, no email, no shared computer drives – it is only when this happens that you realise how much we depend on modern technology on a day-to-day basis. And how little of it I actually understand.
Finding myself back in Wigan to see friends yesterday, I visited my father’s grave. He loathed computers with a passion. He worked in banking all his life, and his 1940s/1950s version of a technological crisis occurred one day when he was running a sub-branch of Martins Bank near Burnley. The front door lock jammed, a problem to which my father inventively responded by providing counter service through the letterbox until the locksmith arrived.
Sadly, these powers of innovation and lateral thinking utterly deserted him when it came to modern technology; not only did he rely on me to programme the early 1980s versions of technology such as video recorders, but he actually announced his retirement from banking when his employer moved on to a computer system.
I often now find myself similarly in technological thrall to my eleven-year old son Peter, requests for assistance usually being met with a characteristic “Oh Dad!” and that eye rolling motion that his teacher hates so much. I still don’t think he believes me when I tell him I never saw a computer until I went to university.
My equivalent of my father’s technological crisis occurred in the mid-1990s in Oxford. Oxfordshire was in the midst of a long-running postal strike, but neighbouring Gloucestershire’s postmen were working normally. As I lived on the fringe of the Cotswolds out towards Gloucestershire, I would leave the office in mid-afternoon to take our post up to Moreton-in-Marsh, just on the Gloucestershire side of the Oxfordshire border, to ensure that it was sent out safely and on a timely basis. Thinking back, this was slightly odd, as it didn’t help at all with incoming post, but presumably it took the responsibility for delaying matters out of our hands.
They were happy days, when the speed of communication was dictated by the postal system, which I suspect may well have been more efficient then than now. The first tax partner I worked for would receive a technical letter from the Inland Revenue and would say “I will put that away for a week or two to think about it”, and would proceed to do so. What a luxury that seems in an age of e-mail, and the desire and expectation of an immediate response. How stressful would my father have found that (I know how stressful I find it)?
And of course when the system breaks down, how do you let people know you are not getting their emails; that you are not just ignoring them or giving other people priority? On the other hand, how did we used to schedule large meetings before Doodle, and communicate with a large group of people before email?
The other shocks to the system of our system meltdown were looking things up in books rather than on the internet and not being able to update this blog, a medium that depends above all on topicality. Thank goodness the system is due to be back up today.
My final thought is of how my instinctive distrust of modern technology strangely stood me in good stead last week. Having had fun with our dying server previously, I have taken to saving items I am working on currently on the drive of my own office computer, which meant that I could work on it all when the network went down. I couldn’t print it, or send it anywhere by email, but at least I now have a large body of work just waiting to go once the network comes back to life. My wife and our office administrator tell me this is very bad computer discipline, but I would have been in deep trouble if I had relied purely on the network.
My father, I suspect, would have been proud of me!