Monday, July 23, 2007

Grim Outlook as Lightning Strikes and the Waters Rise

Friday was a weird day the College, as it must have been for many people in the south of England. Torrential, persistent, cats-and-dogmatic floods of rain came down for most of the day as some anti-cyclone span relentlessly overhead. The roads, lanes and paths in the Thames Valley around the College took on more the look of the Thames than the valley and, for once, it felt much better being on the inside looking out.

At approximately one in the afternoon a huge flash of intermittent lightning brought the whole College to a halt as our power went off. When it came back on the surge, coupled with a separate hardware problem, seemed to have knocked out our email system sideways like a punch-drunk boxer.

It's always fascinating to watch what happens when the email is down. It reminds me of the scene at the end of the film 'Battle of Britain' where the previously frenetically busy control room (the one with women in tin hats pushing numbers around a huge map of the south of England whilst being watched by Laurence Olivier) suddenly has nothing to do. Everyone just sits around. It's just too quiet.

Eventually people start to re-arrange their desks, clear their papers, some even picked up the phone in lieu of an email. Henley being Henley, a great many other people headed off for a cup of tea, which seemed to re-ignite the lost art of Conversation (and invited in its poor cousin, Gossip). I found myself transferring the file I was working on for my boss to a USB memory stick and actually taking it there myself!

Such a period of reflection usually results in us all realising that about 80% of what we do sat at our desks on email is, if not a complete waste of time, then still perhaps not the best use of our time. The trouble is the remaining 20% which we do actually rely on electronic means to get done.

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