Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Living Abroad Matters Three -Technology Hitch

Royal Cuppa Beats Internet Angst

I had no idea I was so dependent on the internet, so dependent on being online for my work and social contact, until we were forced to wait two weeks to be connected by BT (British Telecommunications).

I was hyperventilating, pacing the floor and having withdrawal symptoms, fearing my scintillating fresh news was fast becoming stale old news, fish and chip wrapping, that opportunities were evaporating into London’s chilly air and that friends and family were forgetting me. Who was she again?

Apparently we were caught in the inflexible system, relegated a place in the famous English queue, to which there were no exceptions, no matter how urgent your need or desperate your plea. Wait. Just wait. Don’t you know there is a procedure here.

The first time I ventured into a seedy Internet CafĂ© to rescue my languishing emails imprisoned in cyber space, I emerged with a nasty bug and raging sore throat. So I resolved to wait. Just wait…until BT was good and ready to reconnect us to the Land of the Living. For those of us who reside in Cyber Land, this Second Life IS real life, isn’t it?
To be cut off amounts to social ostracism. After all there is no point in writing just to amuse myself. I write to connect with my fellow humans, to inform, to influence, to inspire! And the internet is the ultimate means of distribution which requires no paper and no trucks. I still marvel at what’s happened to global communications in the last decade.

But it has a down-side; a loss of face-to-face, even voice-to-voice contact. In the good old days as a busy little journalist, I could make an appointment by phone and be in front of someone with my notepad in a flash, write up the story and see I published the next day. Simple really. But in these last few years, most of my contacts with editors and interview subjects have been by email. And it takes longer, several polite messages back and forth, to pin down Face Time.

These days I have become phone shy. In marketing-speak, I’m suffering ‘call reluctance’ which experts say is a dreaded condition of the faint-hearted who fear the cold rejection of the recorded message, the sigh of annoyance at your rude interruption and worst of all, the terse defensiveness of the officious minder. For a writer, it is so much gentler, far less brutal, to communicate via email than talk to a real person! So I hide behind the bunker of my polite emails.

So there we were holed up in the flat on Saturday morning with Andrew on the phone to Tech Support trying to configure our Big Pond with the new server and after several hours of stress and immense frustration with no success, I declared that we needed some fresh air. We had been to visit Kensington Palace, the late Princess Diana’s favourite home, the previous weekend, jumping off the Big Bus tour to stretch our legs. So I thought it was only fair to visit the Queen this weekend at her modest home in Green Park.

I rang Liz and said: “Throw on the kettle and bung on the scones, we’re coming over!” Liz was thrilled of course because life gets a bit dull for her especially with those chaps parading in her front yard all day so she can’t get stuck into the gardening. So we jumped on the Tube and headed over for a pleasant diversion from our computer worries. I don’t know what those hundreds of people with cameras were doing milling around the front of Buck House. Surely they didn’t expect a cuppa too! Liz has only got so much good China to go around.

Anyway it was a nice outing and Liz commiserated with my technical hitches. Goodness knows, she has faced a few herself in her time. And her advice was to persevere. Just stay on your throne no matter what problem or setback comes your way. Keep your focus on the Big Picture, the reason why you’re here. Keep focused on what you are trying to achieve. And always look on the bright side. Wait a minute, was that Liz’s advice or those funny Monty Python fellows? It doesn’t matter, I decided to keep a stiff upper lip and see the positive side of a life dependent on the internet.

So yes, I am grateful for the internet, for the instant communication across vast distances, for the opportunity to work anywhere in the world, for access to information on any subject that enters my head like how do I get to Yorkshire? Can I get a British passport? Where is the nearest hospital? And where can I buy one of those eccentric hunting vests that Auntie Joan wears in Doc Martin?

So dear family and friends, editors, readers and potential interview subjects, be warned I am back online and ready to inundate you with polite emails. If you can’t remember who I am, search the internet. I am alive and well in Cyber Space. But if you can’t find me there, I might just be having afternoon tea with the Queen.

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