Some of you may have come across the Jesuit motto: ‘Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.’ I’d like to offer my own motto in its place: ‘Give me a computer for any length of time and I will give you a broken keyboard, smashed monitor and woman with a nervous breakdown.’ I’m not very good with technology, you see. I don’t like it – it intimidates me – and the feeling is mutual. Machines of all description tend to sense my aversion and automatically malfunction around me: photocopiers, cars, toasters, doorknobs – but most of all computers.
How ironic then that my current job should see me sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day. And sometimes not just sitting in front of it either – at times I actually turn it on and do stuff on it. I have to, you see – it’s a necessity of the job.
It isn’t as if they sprung it on me unexpectedly either: my job description stipulated ‘a high level of computer literacy with exceptional skills in Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Photoshop and InDesign’ as essential prerequisites. Accordingly, in my cover letter, I described myself as being ‘technologically savvy’, ‘fully conversant with a broad range of computer applications’ and a ‘quick learner able to rapidly acquire new IT skills as required.’ The last comment was blindly optimistic, and the first two comments were frankly lies, but… actually, I think I’ve said all I have to in that sentence.
My job application displayed no evidence of exceptional skills in Microsoft Word. My margins were all awry, my font fluctuated wildly from one paragraph to the next, the footer stubbornly insisted that this was page 7 of a document entitled ‘The Sartorial Impact of the Black Death in 15th Century Delft.’ Nevertheless, I was called in for an interview. It was only an eight month maternity leave position, but it was in children’s publishing, and I was eager to get the job.
‘So what sort of computers programmes are you familiar with?’ the interviewer asked me, after we’d gone through all of the usual pleasantries.
‘Pretty much all of them,’ I said vaguely.
‘You know Office and Excel, obviously?’ she said. I nodded. I would learn what they were later.
‘And you’re OK with Powerpoint?’
‘Powering on through it!’ I said enthusiastically. (What did that mean? I had no idea, but added a thumbs up for extra reassurance.)
‘Now, you said in your application that you were an expert in web development applications, which is fantastic as that’s a really central part of this role. Do you know Dreamweaver at all?’
I was surprised by her sudden change of subject.
‘I don’t really listen to much modern music.’
She gave me a funny look. ‘It’s a program for building and managing websites.’
‘Yes, I know,’ I said, raising my eyebrows at her condescendingly, as if I’d been making a clever joke and she’d been too dense to get it. ‘Of course I’m familiar with Dream Breeder. I mean, it’s been a few years since I’ve used it, but there’d be someone who could help me brush up on the finer details, right?’
‘Well, Dreamweaver is something that you’d be working with pretty much on a daily basis and we were really envisaging this as more of an autonomous role.’
‘I don’t mean someone to, like, sit by me and hold my hand. I just mean, you know, sometimes you temporarily forget whether you have to press enter or… um… the space bar to, er… weave.’
I can only imagine what the other candidates were like, because I got the job. Seeing through my confident assertions that I was pretty much au fait with every computer program ever invented, the interviewer tactfully arranged for Kate, the woman going on maternity leave, to stay on for an extra few weeks and train me. Under her patient tutelage, I rapidly mastered the internal email system, Excel, Photoshop and even the office photocopier.
But then came Dreamweaver – the program they used to create the monthly newsletters. I hadn’t been anticipating too many difficulties with it: the name didn’t sound too threatening, after all – a little bit more hippy than I’m used to perhaps, slightly mystical and airy-fairy – but definitely doable. Thus, I was taken aback when I was presented with a trisected screen, the bottom bit looking like an apartment block with lots of little windows, the middle part an ordinary webpage, and the top bit filled with truncated sentences randomly strewn through a thick jumble of symbols and numbers. It reminded me of one of those spiral bound children’s books where you can mix and match different animal parts to create strange chimerical creatures like the ‘tig-opot-aroo.’
I was unable to suppress a surprised, and slightly disconcerted, ‘Oh’.
‘What’s wrong?’ Kate asked.
‘It’s just not what I was expecting,’ I said.
‘What were you expecting?’ I didn’t want to tell her that I’d been imagining something vaguely American Indian, possibly involving prayer rugs, shamans and pooling energy. I had thought that maybe the whole children’s department would, I don’t know, all sit around together in a circle and have a bit of a pow-wow about what should go in the newsletter, and then I’d go back to my desk and write it all down. On a pad of paper. Which someone else would then type up.
‘Oh, I just thought it would look more like a modem,’ I said, randomly pulling out a computer term I’d read somewhere or other in the vague hope that it would make me seem experienced. Obviously I hadn’t learnt a thing from the interview.
Kate looked at me oddly. ‘A modem is the part of the computer that enables it to transmit data.’
‘Well, yes, obviously,’ I said. ‘But it’s also a new program from the states. It’s an acronym for Modern Office Disc something or other. It may not be out in Australia yet, but my boyfriend uses it at his work all the time. He’s a professional computerist.’
Kate looked at me wordlessly once more, perhaps awed by my insider knowledge.
Or perhaps she was just relieved that after her baby was born and safely lodged in childcare, she would still have a job to come back to. You often hear of people returning from maternity leave only to find they have been permanently supplanted by the person meant to just temporarily fill in for them. But in that regard, Kate had nothing to fear from me.