Workplace Relations #5

Efrem’s comments in Workplace Relations #4 summed up the “chill” of modern human relations beautifully – and deserved a special response. But they also made me think … what really happened in the 90s “that made people lose their feeling for their fellows”?

Strangely enough, I believe one answer could be the introduction of … Microsoft Windows. At the hospital where I worked, typewriters and ‘dummy terminals’ were removed and replaced with bulky monitors and keyboards, with an instruction book and perhaps 3 hours of ‘personal’ instruction with trainers who were best left to their own devices (very few had teaching skills).

Months before this changeover, I enrolled in a MS Word evening course. I didn’t have the slightest idea of what it was about but I knew that it was important. I told my friends and colleagues to do the same but they were insistent “They will train us at work”. 

Well, “they” didn’t. The result was frustration, stress and longer work days. One night a week at a TAFE college for 3 months wasn’t really enough, but at least the icons on my monitor became friendlier and more familiar. It took weeks before anyone was comfortable with “cutting and pasting”, changing fonts, creating tables … and months before Excel no longer terrified us.

But in the meantime, I noticed we weren’t talking to each other, or asking “how are you” as often, or meeting up with friends for lunch. There was only: “How am I supposed to get this done before 4?” … “I feel like throwing this out the window”, or “Please show me how to create a header and footer!” The only thing that mattered then was to master this “monster”. Staring at the screen for hours, we were totally spent by the time we got home. 

Now this is true: We couldn’t stop laughing when a colleague pressed the ‘Help’ key and wondered why the IT person didn’t show up!!

As years passed, our confidence and proficiency grew. Computers and printers were upgraded every few years; they became faster and had more applications. And emails took the place of talking. New expressions began to replace simple words. I hated one in particular: “Please cascade this report to your team” (i.e. “please forward”). 

I was so fortunate to have “teened”  in the 60s – where we helped each other with our homework, shared our lunches and played hopscotch. In 1969, as a cadet journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald, our editor would yell: “Don’t give me a story without who, what, when and why!” Our chief-of-staff would pass by my desk with a reassuring hand on my shoulder. We’d laugh with senior reporters at our typos, and there was always someone who offered to walk me to Sydney’s Central Station when my shift finished at 11pm. 

By stealth, technology stole our sense of humour, our chats over backyard fences and our time. Now, it’s all about ‘AI’. Our future, our very existence, depends on artificial intelligence totally and completely. 

News travels in seconds. Journalism has become sensationalist and partisan, with important facts left out. Politicians have make-overs, voice coaches and speech-spin doctors. Anything that helps to win an election. What happened to good old “Tell it like it is!”, and hands-on troubleshooting? Advertising is in your ear every second, and is everywhere … “Buy this NOW!” … “Click here to lose weight” … “Remember to gamble responsibly” … 

Of course I do love my laptop and iPhone – where I watch, listen, learn, write and communicate anytime, anywhere. But my hands aren’t only used to clutch my phone and to text: they’re also used to console and reassure. I haven’t stopped smiling. Whatever we’re doing, thinking or worrying about, we can always smile. Try it. Frowning just strips your energy. I look at people and listen when they talk. 

I sing all the time; it relaxes me. I’d use music even at work. Our favourite song was ‘Manic Monday’ … 2 minutes before we took our phones off voicemail (guess when!). We sang ‘We Gotta Get Out of this Place’ after a bad day, and left work laughing. When my PC started to play up, I’d sing and groove to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Yesterme, Yesteryou, Yesterday’. Music has such amazing power – use it.

So let’s get over all this “selfism”. And THANK YOU, Efrem. The world we knew has changed, but we can make it better! 

Now if only ‘Apple’ meant that lovely, crunchy fruit that keeps doctors away …

2 thoughts on “Workplace Relations #5

  1. Efrem Manassey

    Beautifully put Shirl. You make a powerful case for how the introduction of Microsoft Windows has changed work life drastically and irreversibly. This is beyond true my dear!

    And I appreciate your positivity; your invitation to all of us to “smile” is actually a very important way to counter the coldness out there. Once we start smiling, and smiling more often, people respond in kind. What a beaut thing to spread around.

    Singing too, is a wonderful thing to do. I do sing softly when not at home. It’s kind of uplifting, is it not? My song choice is perhaps a little different to your own though –
    For instance lately I’ve been singing a few lines from “The Roof is on Fire” by Bloodhound Gang. Works for me. 😉

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