The Bane Of The Reminders

We’ve been working remotely for a while now, and with the coronavirus refusing to go away peacefully and quietly, it looks like we’ll be working remotely for a while longer.  That means technology will continue to play a key role in our ability to earn our living, and on a regular basis, new programs and applications will be rolled out for us to use in the remote working space.  And then we’ll have to learn them, and figure out how to incorporate them into our work days.

I accept all of this — really, I do.  I’m grateful for the tech geeks and programs that have kept the ball rolling during the shutdown period.  But there’s one thing about these new software applications that really, really bugs me — the reminders.

Here’s what always happens.  The new application is rolled out.  You sign up for it . . . warily.  And then the onslaught of reminders begins.  At first the reminders are somewhat friendly, like “Hey, we’re glad you’ll be using McGuffin.  Learn how!”  But quickly they become increasingly insistent.  “The McGuffin will help you collaborate seamlessly.  You can be trained on it through this free webinar!”  “Follow this link to take your McGuffin training!”  “Don’t forget your McGuffin training!”  “Hey, buddy boy — nice little remote working arrangement you’ve got here.  Be a shame if something happened to it because you didn’t take the McGuffin training.”  (OK, that last one is a bit of an exaggeration.) 

And if you do take the training, the emails don’t stop.  “Please rate the McGuffin training.”  “We’ve made great new  improvements to McGuffin.  Click here to find out about them.”  “We noticed you haven’t been making full use of McGuffin.  We’re monitoring what you’re doing, in case you have any doubt about that.”  (OK, that last one is a bit of exaggeration, too.)

The constant nagging quickly reminds you that you are up against a soulless computer program that will never tire or falter in its relentless quest to get you to click on the links and complete the stupid training.  You can’t ignore it.  It will keep bugging you to do its bidding and filling up your inbox with totally unwanted reminders.  It’s like an annoying, whining kid constantly tugging at your pant leg and asking you to buy it an ice cream cone.  Its need for immediate attention and responsiveness on your part becomes unbearable.   

There’s probably some new application out there that could stop the never-ending flow of reminder statements.  But if I sign up for it, the whole process will start over again.

Blessed Be The Laptop Makers

For many of us, the primary impact of COVID-19 has been to move our place of work from an office building to home territory.  The coronavirus has really driven home the message that modern technology allows white collar workers to enjoy a flexibility that prior generations just didn’t have.

Think, for a minute, about the impact of the kind of closure measures that were imposed during the 1918-1919 “Spanish flu” pandemic, or what the effect of workplace closures being imposed now would have had even 30 years ago when computer networks were in their infancy.  The vast majority of people in those eras would have been thrown out of work because there was no option to work remotely.  But now, thanks to the invention and proliferation of laptops, wireless technology, cellphones, and the internet, a considerable chunk of the American work force can turn off the lights in their offices, remove their laptops from their docking stations, go home, turn on the lights in their kitchens, studies, or dining rooms, log in, enter a password or two, and get right back to work.  We’ve come to take this technology for granted, but it’s really pretty amazing when you stop and think about it.

When something as disruptive as the Great Coronavirus Crisis of 2020 hits, you wonder whether it will have long-term impacts on work habits, social interaction, and other aspects of American culture.  Did the 1918-1919 flu — which was far more pervasive and impactful than the coronavirus, and which led to many closings in an effort to stop the spread of the infection — have such an effect?  I’m not aware of any fundamental social changes that occurred.  But I suspect that what we are doing now will simply spur a trend that was well underway before anyone heard of coronavirus:  working remotely, without being tied to an office building.

Of course, not everyone has the ability to work remotely, and we should all be thinking about what we can do to help those businesses and workers who have been most affected by the closures imposed by authorities.  Kish and I are going to be sure to get carry-out over the next few days, for example, to help support the restaurants and bars that have been shuttered and allow them to maintain some cash flow until things reopen down the road.   

But now, it’s back to work.