When I were a lad, we really looked forward to general elections. This had less to do with a pre-pubescent fascination for the fortunes of Messrs Wilson and Heath than with the fact that schools were closed for use as polling stations. But I suspect that many of the children (or ?students?, as they now style themselves) who missed a day?s schooling last week, will have been more than a little peeved at being kept away from their books and computer labs for 24 hours.
Because today?s children are positively swotty. At one school of my acquaintance, if the network goes down for an hour the teachers potter off to the staff room to smoke their pipes, or sew another leather patch on their tweed jackets. But after 10 minutes the kids are marching on the tech support department demanding the network administrator?s head on a spike. When the system comes back up, they dive straight into their spreadsheets to estimate the damage the downtime has done to their exam prospects, and calculate their compensation claims for loss of lifetime earnings.
Things are the same at home. With homework to manufacture, friends to email and Web sites to surf, today?s youth expects to compute non-stop from 4.30 until bedtime (except, perhaps, for a short break to eat and watch Home and Away). Woe betide the parent who wants to use the computer room for anything so mundane as vacuuming, preparing dinner or practising yogic flying. Younger siblings who want a quiet read of Green Eggs and Ham or Grandma and Me do not get a look-in. And if the hard disk fails, or Windows 95 throws a wobbly when confronted by the latest software gizmo, there is hell to pay.
When these tyrannical tyros start work, they take their impatience with them. While you or I might welcome a spot of network outage to take a breather and check out the job ads in PC Dealer, the office juniors are craning impatiently out of the windows for the first sight of the engineer. They do not just need the network to do their jobs. The intranet has become the lifeblood of the organisation, so how will they be able to make their lunch-time arrangements or conduct their love lives without it?
The increasing casualisation of the workforce, with its emphasis on piece-work, self-employment and teleworking, is bound to cause such attitudes to multiply. The clerk who is paid a ha?penny per invoice entered knows that he is losing dosh every second his PC is on the blink. And the telecottager does not want to waste precious earning time feeding the sheep or admiring the view, just because her modem has gone phut and cut her off from all her customers. If she does not get back online soon, the view will soon be reserved for B&B guests and the sheep will be for the chop(s).
I am sure there is a marketing opportunity here, somewhere. One of the legacies of the Tories (bless ?em) has been the increasing preponderance of private health care, private pensions and other forms of insurance against rainy days from which the state umbrella can no longer guarantee to protect us. Now it is time to extend this idea to PCs, because what these uppity nippers, twitchy office workers and nervous teleworkers need is private computer insurance, or PCI.
Always willing to diversify, we at Bray Enterprises have devised several tailor-made PCI policies for the discerning user. The first one ready for launch is our Pushy Prodigy policy, aimed at school children (sorry, students). If their school is unable to maintain its habitual provision of PCs, printers, modems, CD-Rom drives and so on, their own personal engineer will be on-site within 15 minutes with an exact replica of their equipment ? even down to the blob of pre-owned gum on the underside of the keyboard.
With our reasonably priced all-risks extension policy, the service will also be available at home, covering such eventualities as Dad commandeering the PC to write his sales presentation, baby brother dripping jam in the keyboard, and escaped rodents gnawing through the power cable. In exceptional cases, including blind drunkenness, FA Cup replays, or a realistic chance of loss of virginity, the engineer will actually do their homework for them (if only by stitching together the appropriate passages from a selection of CD-Rom encyclopaedias).
If Pushy Prodigy sells well, we shall extend the range with our Canny Clerk and Tense Telecottager policies. Canny Clerk will offer generous compensation to piece-workers whenever the network goes down, the EDI feed fails, or it?s their turn to buy the milk again. In the event of a rural telecoms failure, Tense Telecottager will guarantee a parachute drop containing a satellite phone, data modem, and a month?s supply of mint sauce.
Alternatively, we could simply sell everyone a sticker saying: ?There are better things to do with your life than stare at a PC screen ? now is your chance to do some of them.? Or just teach them to be a bit more patient.
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