Rage Against The Machine—Quack

As I happens, I took this photo a couple of years ago at a quiet spot on campus. Figures.

As I happens, I took this photo a couple of years ago at a quiet spot on campus. Figures.

OK, so I suppose in the end it will be a good thing. A new on-line system to edit a large, annual document is being introduced at my place of employment. It will, I’m sure, be in the long run a great improvement on the old ways of doing things.

But right now if feels like another duck just bit me.

To do my job, which is ranked among less stressful jobs by people who don’t know what the heck they’re doing, I have to:

  • Use four totally different and inconsistent browser-based information systems: An intranet, the organization’s public web page, a course content management system and a totally separate system that scores and records my grade books and has data on all of my advisees. From a user point of view, none of these is particularly elegant or friendly—it’s like living simultaneously in four badly planned, seedy neighborhoods.
  • Employ multiple PCs and projectors in classrooms. That’s OK, except that each has its own particular quirks and ways to operate—does the document camera have to be on? Which buttons do you press to switch from computer projection to document projections? Where is the “volume” control located—or, more realistically, where are all three or four volume controls located? The details and buttons vary from room to room, even in the same building or on the same floor. And don’t get me started on something abominable called a “Smart Board,” which it again a totally different system with its own quirks and crannies. And yes, I also have to speak “Mac.”
  • Find and submit information that sometimes resides somewhere deep in the bowels of a computer system, or one of four computer systems, or sometimes exists only in paper form. One glance at my office and you’d know I would much rather deal with computerized data even if it means speaking four different user-interface languages. If it’s in my office, it’s probably lost. If I am asked to update a report that I filed months ago, it’s pretty much a lost cause. There is no way to do that which makes any sense at all, no way to either access relevant information or, sometimes, even change the document itself—especially if the old report was an editable PDF when it was sent out in May, and is locked down now and can’t be edited by me. Life is too short. I won’t do it.
  • Deal with unexpected changes in routine software I use all the time. For instance, in some courses, I use Publisher as a teaching tool—and the Publisher version I’m using was recently updated and the user interface changed. The big change is that there is no toolbar, so all the old labs and directions I have that refer to “tools” are out the window. Sigh.
  • Learn a new online system for course evaluations. That’s good news, since it eliminates paper forms and long delays waiting for reports. But there was training I was supposed to attend in fall to learn how to mark stuff for the evaluations—training that didn’t fit my schedule—and now there is training this spring on how to read the results—again, taking place while I can’t attend. And forgive the grumpy old man, but honestly—if you’re a literate, highly educated person, and you have to be “trained” to both generate and then to read a report, isn’t that a sure sign that the system itself is fundamentally flawed? Sound of ducks laughing between bites.

It seems that every time that a solution is sought to a workplace problem, or every time the organization takes steps to improve efficiency, life gets more irritating in small, baffling, frustrating, ducky ways.

“Pecked to Death by Ducks” is a title of a book I’ve never read, but I think the saying predates the book. It refers to many small annoyances slowly sapping away your optimism, good cheer and will to soldier on. And I think it’s the new reality of today’s workplace.

The other day I received an e-mail from another department in reference to a new student. The program I teach in has four different majors, so the fact that a student was entering my program didn’t tell me what the new student had picked as a major. I e-mailed back, asking what the student’s major was. I got a response that explained that the office which contacted me simply generates an e-mail when a student is accepted—very useless information for me. And the reply did not answer what I thought was a simple question, so I replied again, THIS TIME TYPING IN ALL CAPS TO SIGNIFY HOW HAPPY I WAS, asking for the major.

I got a call that informed me it was my responsibility to look that information up on “Program X.” I did not recognize the name of Program X, and said I didn’t know how to look it up. The reply was: “It’s the system used by offices Y and Z.” I don’t work in Y or Z, by the way. The person on the phone might just as well have said, “It’s the tool every neurosurgeon uses.”

I was, I’m sure, snarky and rude during the phone call. Duck bites do that to you. Because later that day, I got a call from a more seasoned employee of that office, telling me I could look up the information on “System A.” I know System A, I use System A every day, what I didn’t know is that System A is Program X—Program X is the software the provides System A. The person in the first phone call was telling me to go a place that I’m very familiar with, I just didn’t realize it under its other name—it’s as if I knew Norwich is in the UK, but didn’t realize that telling me that Norwich is in England is not contradictory information.

Sigh. Quack. The ducks take another bite, or more properly, peck. I take no pleasure that, from the other office’s point of view, not only was I attacked again by ducks, I was also their particular duck that day.

I don’t blame the powers-that-be at my place of employment. Each decision they make is, on the face of it, rational and aimed at system improvement. But every time some darn new ducky scheme is introduced, I feel that little nip.

Damn ducks.

I thought about this the other day when I read some news stories in The Gazette that suggested automation is permanently eliminating many jobs. The link is not to The Gazette, by the way, because I could not figure out how to find this story on their web site—somewhere an aquatic bird is collapsing in mirth.  For those of us left in the workforce, each time a new system is introduced that leads to some tiny increased efficiency, the ducks bite. And I suspect that syndrome is happening in a lot of American workplaces—indeed, in many workplaces globally.


What about you? How is your workplace evolving? Do you find yourself having to scramble to learn new systems so that you can do simple tasks that you used to do more easily by paper through an intermediary? And are you concerned that someday all those “intermediaries” are us?



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2 responses to “Rage Against The Machine—Quack

  1. This sounds so much like the place I am currently temping and don’t want to name in a post. But, yes, ducks and geese and swans and platypuses are nibbling and no one is getting anywhere!

  2. I have been in a job where the tech we were using was bad old and not very easy to use so I know how you feel. Hopefully the improvements will help over time. Learning new systems is never fun at first until it clicks then you will love it. Keep your head up and good luck.

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