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June 2009, vol 5 no 2

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Jonathan Buckley

 

On the Road to Nowhere

In the year 2007, my 51st in this world, I went to work for the Golden Gate Corporation, an American Internet company which provides the roundabouts and traffic lights on the information superhighway. I was curious to experience life in a large organisation where the matrix had replaced traditional hierarchies of “command and control”; making it all possible was the Internet, transcending time-zones and old frontiers.

Opening the window
The browser Googles
A flickering image

The European headquarters was a large, glass box in a grey frame that nestled on a grassy bank beside a lake with swans and other waterfowl; to the common man it appeared like a shining palace removed from everyday life by a moat.

Beneath the surface
Steady in the current
Three large pike

For the first few weeks I travelled in each day, taking the train to Clapham Junction, where for a brief moment I joined the river of humanity on its way to work. I flowed down through the underground walkway and up to Platform 5 and the fast train out to Feltham. Waiting at the other end, a white courtesy bus whisked the black laptops off to work.

Life slides by
The morning traffic reflects
On a Blackberry

Meeting me on my first day, the American manager pointed me towards the Virtual Private Network with the reassurance, “Don’t worry if it doesn’t make any sense. At first it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose!” And for several weeks I did indeed wander lonely as a cloud through the virtual workshop, adrift from colleagues and the tools of my trade.

Silent summer’s day
A scatter of tip taps
On the laptop

I worked with people who were somewhere else so I hardly got to know those that shared the “drop in” area. In fact, I liked the anonymity and once I had set up “Odyssey” on my laptop, I was free to work remotely, where and when I wanted. So while most people were rushing to work, I could finish off my email in the home office and then head off to the Lido for a swim.

Empty inbox
The soft shiny surface
Of an empty pool

My job was to provide “messaging” for the project teams that fine-tuned the sales systems and processes … “giving time back to sales” was the oft-repeated mantra. And the process was tortured, with every step micro-managed like an American football game. The result was an endless progression of meetings and catch-up calls!

Hi … Hi …
Can you talk? QQ!
A moment in time

These meetings were held online using a teleconference service which allowed participants to share PowerPoint presentations and send messages to other participants. The whole process was overseen by an automated announcer who counted us in and counted us out: “This meeting is scheduled to end in 10 minutes,” the disembodied voice announced.

Electronic impulses
Flashing across Windows
The squabbling swans

When all was done, participants would “drop off” to make their next meeting: Minds moved but the bodies remained hunched over the laptops, ears pinking from the pressure of the headphones.

Cyber whispers
The swans beyond the window
Splash down silently

By way of compensation, the life of the technocracy can be a veritable cornucopia of good living. Arriving in the office, I would help myself to a banana, a pear and perhaps a plum from the bowl of free fruit. And from 12:30 the large dining area, with glass doors onto a roof terrace overlooking the lake, served a range of hot and cold cuisines to suit the most discerning palate.

Sumptuous summer’s day
Beyond the apple crumble
Cream yellow custard

Back at work, the corporate cappuccino machine whirred and foamed a limitless supply of sharp-tasting caffeine and the fridges offered up free fruit juices, bottled water and cold cans of Root Beer, Coke and Fanta. And if that wasn’t enough, there were always the boiled sweets in reception!

Hot summer’s day
The hum of the electric fan
Cooling the laptop

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” goes the song. And soon we could see the weather turning; storm clouds on the horizon. In our glass palace we knew that the age of abundance was coming to an end. It was the little things that turned virtual reality into physical proof. First off the boiled sweets disappeared from reception; then the cappuccino button on the coffee machine died and finally the “Five Alive” fruit bowls emptied and were filled no more.

Inbox of messages
A swan chases a rival
Around the lake

There were corporate proclamations and the imposition of travel bans and staff cutbacks. First to feel the knife were the contract staff, or “red badges,” as they were called; the goal was a 50% saving each month for the quarter. I was a “red badge” and despite the best efforts of my colleagues, some weeks later I was back in the office to hand in my laptop. For two years I had lived inside it, mind everywhere, travelling nowhere! But now it was back to the real world.

Dusk at the end
Letting fresh air into the office
Before closing the door


To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun ..., Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

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