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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

What a difference one letter can make. The calamitous power outage that brought such chaos to British Airways flights and caused untold misery to so many thousands of passengers over several days, can also be described, with the addition of just one letter, as a power outrage.

The incident, if such a trivial-sounding word can be applied to an event of such magnitude, caused exactly that: an outrage of such power and fury that it is hard to imagine how BA can ever rebuild its reputation.

What an outrage it has been. What an absolute scandal and disaster that British Airways, which we could happily rely upon to fly the nation’s pride confidently and competently across the skies, has come to this.

And yet it need not have done. OK, so the power outage brought flights to a standstill, but BA only had to tell its passengers (I bet they’re called customers) what was going on, or not going on, and everyone would have let a little sympathy mingle with their disappointment.

What happened instead? Utter chaos, confusion and outrage. And why? Because the company was too arrogant to communicate with its punters, choosing to leave them in the dark for hours, days, while hiding behind the great excuse of our age: “computer problems beyond our control”.

We’ve all suffered from those, or those of us who have technology in our lives and who have to rely on it to work.

As soon as we heard about the BA power outage, Geoff said it would have been because someone had pulled a plug out somewhere. No large company would ever admit to that, I’m sure, but it happens.

I once worked with a young chap who decided to turn off what he thought was a heater. He was hot and the room seemed airless. He flicked the switch of the offending machine and returned to his desk.

Within seconds the entire production of a newspaper was halted as computer screens blanked out and the office fell eerily quiet.

My colleague had turned off not a heater, as he’d thought, but the server that was powering everyone’s computers.

He had no idea that his action had been the cause of the shutdown and it took the office Darren (IT chaps were always called Darren then) the whole afternoon to track down the problem.

BA must have loads of Darrens. More to the point, it must also, surely, have loads of highly paid public relations advisors and spokesmen. Big, big fail on their part.

Who would muster enough confidence now to book a flight with such a flaky outfit as BA? Someone, somewhere, has some serious brand-building to do, but that’s unlikely to be achieved by dressing a baffled CEO in a high-viz jacket and standing him in an office to give a statement.

It is hard to accept that ‘our’ British Airways, in its heyday described by its marketing department as ‘the world’s favourite airline’, is so terribly tarnished by this outrage. I’m taking it slightly personally, since I am related to the company: my niece is married to a BA pilot.

Well, he was working for them. Perhaps, now, like us, he’s feeling outraged by the handling of the outage and is thinking of pulling the plug on his employers.

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I am as comfortable with new technology as most people who have been hooked on it for the past 20 years or so. I have an array of devices that between them help to run my daily life, performing functions as diverse as an accessible diary, calendar and address book and, of course, as a processor of my words.

I read a daily newspaper on my iPad, I take photos with my iPhone, I am permanently connected one way or another to the big wide world through both of those and through my desktop Mac. In other words, I am totally reliant on new technology and I like it that way.

I cannot think of any negative aspect of this except for the effect it has had on my handwriting. To put it bluntly, I have virtually lost the ability to write with a pen or pencil. I’m a high-speed texter – strangely, with my left hand, while I am right-handed in everything else – and I can rattle out words at a fair rate of knots on a keyboard, too, but put a funny old-fashioned pen in my hand and ask me to write something and I come over all clumsy and helpless.

My grand-daughter Poppy’s handwriting bears a worrying similarity to mine. Poppy is four. Apart from this slight disparity in our ages (and even less of a disparity in our height), the big difference between us is that her writing is actually legible. Mine has the appearance of something eight-legged dying messily on the page.

It was never good or even remotely stylish in its heyday, but at least it was fast, confident and readable. I could adapt it to fit into small spaces, like the boxes on official forms, and I could write letters that ran into pages and pages and my words never veered downhill. Now, I painstakingly assemble half-a-dozen words on a birthday card and have to lie down and recover from the effort of such an alien activity.

My sister and I recently had to fill out and sign a form on behalf of our mother. Oh, the agony! I am embarrassed by my handwriting, but my sister is quite shameless about hers. She honestly ought to be equipped with a personalised John Bull printing kit as she simply can no longer write at all.

Watching her try to fill in her name and address in such a measly little box on this form brought to mind those school workbooks my children used to bring home in their early years. I’d hover, suppressing the urge to snatch up the pencil and show them how – and here I was again, doing exactly the same while my big sister scrawled and looped her way through the task.

When it was my turn to apply my name and address I stuck my tongue between my teeth and concentrated with all my might. It was slow, messy and barely readable, but it was done. I shudder to think what the official on the receiving end of the form must have made of our efforts.

A friend of mine encouraged me when she confided that her handwriting is definitely worse than mine. She writes a shopping list but, once in the shop, she cannot read her writing.

She turns to fellow shoppers, giving the impression she is running errands for someone else, and asks “Can you help me read what this person has written on their list?” That’s cool, really cool.

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