On Friday evening it was windy. So windy that I was almost blown off my bicycle and found myself struggling into an angry gale as I negotiated my way the few miles to visit family. It was certainly a wild evening, but it would be an exaggeration to bring the storm scene from Shakespeare’s King Lear or the tragedy of Hopkins’ Wreck of the Deutschland to mind. None the less, by the time I returned home the damage was done, and nature had shown her might.
Just two hundred yards from home a telegraph pole was summarily felled and lay parallel to the road, with the frayed ends of telephone cables like the locks of Medusa flailing all around. The consequences of this minor disaster were simply that the Rose household was, and continues to be, robbed of telephone and internet connection.
Sometimes the minor penalty that we incur for living in a relatively isolated part of the countryside is that we find ourselves temporarily inconvenienced by a lack of utilities. Things have actually improved greatly in recent years. For a while it always seemed that we were without one of the necessities of water, electricity or telephone, and on the odd occasion an absence of all three at the same time. This fortunately, was a rare occurrence and we have always been somewhat sanguine in our belief that such inconvenience is a small price to pay for living surrounded by beautiful countryside. Indeed there are times when living by candlelight and a roaring log fire add a certain romance to existence.
Having said this, I have been reflecting over the weekend on the dependency that I have acquired upon the availability of modes of communication, without which I seem to remember functioning very well less than twenty years ago. As is usually the case, over a weekend, I had planned a number of work related activities in order to keep ahead of coming commitments and writing tasks, and in preparation for my forthcoming trip to India. Not having access to the internet, much more than not being able to use the telephone became a source of some frustration. In part, the absence of a land line telephone is compensated by the availability of mobile phones, but access to the internet proves to be much more of a challenge.
The ease of access to the university library, afforded by the internet, means that I seldom bring home large quantities of reference materials. Sitting at my computer I can download papers and even complete books without difficulty in order to prepare lessons or research for my work. Furthermore, I knew that access to my email boxes would enable me to retrieve various documents that would be essential for completing my weekend tasks as usual. Alas, this was not to be the case this weekend.
There is a touch of irony in this situation. Using my mobile phone to report the lack of land line, and the state of the deceased telegraph pole, I dutifully called the appropriate helpline. Ten minutes later, having pressed numerous digits in answer to a series of electronically communicated questions, I was at last put through to a human being. This turned out to be a very pleasant friendly lady who was extremely helpful. As we began our conversation I quickly recognised her accent and the regular sound of traffic horns in the background led me to ask the question, “are you in a call centre in Bangalore?” (many UK companies make use of such a service). “ Why yes,” came the cheerful reply, “how did you know?” “just a lucky guess,” I replied, with a somewhat wry smile.
The young lady was both sympathetic to our plight and efficient, and within a couple of hours a technician was ringing our door bell, full of apologies but explaining that it would possibly be the end of the week before we could be reconnected.
So where is the irony in this you may ask? Well, on Thursday I will be in Bangalore and it occurs to me that, had I been able to obtain a specific address, I could have circumvented a telephone call and called in person to report the difficulties with our broken telephone line. Although, I suppose had I done so I would not have had the conversation with the very friendly and helpful young lady sitting at her desk, and it may have been difficult to explain the location of our home several thousand miles away to a somewhat bemused call centre manager.
Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from this weekend’s communication difficulties. The first may be that a dependency upon modern technology is not necessarily advisable, and that some of the approaches we used to adopt for working still have currency, so long as we do not forget how to use them. Secondly, when things go wrong this may at least provide us with opportunities to have conversations with people we don’t know, but who through demonstrating their empathy give us cause to celebrate human nature.
Having written this at home on Sunday evening, I will post it tomorrow when I arrive at the university – that is assuming that the technology is available to enable me to do so!