Hang Ups

9th December 1994 at 00:00
Christopher Lloyd, in a Sunday Times article on the joys of the technological revolution, introduced readers to Tired Guy and Wired Guy. One is an old-fashioned office worker; the other, thanks to the Internet, video conferencing and suchlike, wallows in the luxury of working from home.

After getting up absurdly early to face the horrors of commuting, Tired Guy spends each unforgiving minute at the office wrestling with filing cabinets, or floundering in a sea of paper as he tries to finish his report in time for the afternoon post. Wired Guy, on the other hand, gets up when he feels like it; peruses his electronic mail over a leisurely croissant; summons all the data he needs from the Internet; word processes his report; sends it down the line to his grateful client; smugly congratulates himself on a job well done.

Anybody who uses computers regularly especially in the classroom will be surprised that Mr Lloyd didn't include a third category Wired And Tired Guy. He's the one with incipient Repetitive Strain Injury and the permanent headache induced by too many hours hunched over a flickering VDU. His programs have a propensity to crash; his hard disc not to spin. If he does venture on to the digital superhighway, he joins the stretch festooned with the electronic equivalent of cones and spilt loads.

Most staffrooms, I suspect, can also boast a Wired And Retired Guy. Of course he is not officially retired indeed, he often draws one of the school's biggest salary cheques. But so absorbed is he in the niceties of desktop publishing or the intricacies of the latest timetabling package, that he no longer finds time to do any of the things outlined in his lengthy job description.

Most teachers would also recognise Wired And Wanna-Be-Admired Guy. Wherever two or three are gathered together, he's the one who ostentatiously brandishes his laptop to ensure everyone knows what a cyberdude he is. Of course he doesn't impress anyone with the possible exception of wideeyed Wired And Inspired Guy.

This guy is so entranced by the hype surrounding The Information Revolution that, like a child on Christmas Eve, he yearns for the Utopian tomorrow when the Internet will unite us as one contented global family. Then all manner of things shall be well, nation shall speak peace unto nation, lambs will lie down with lions and there'll be honey still for tea. He is, however, perpetually puzzled that his colleagues aren't always as ecstatic as he is when he tells them about a future in which their every need, from selecting the week's groceries to finding a mate, will be met by a click of the mouse. He can't understand that, for them, despite their ritualistic grumbling about having to come to work, actually meeting real people is preferable to messing around with a computer however many megabytes it may have.

He knows, however, that his colleagues had better make the most of it while they can. Computers, quite simply, cost jobs. In every walk of life from banking to brain surgery, they can not only do the work but do it better than us guys. There is no reason to believe that teaching is going to be an exception. Distance learning, via a computer, seems such a civilised alternative to a crowded classroom. A sophisticated program that can analyse an individual's performance and use the data to structure the next assignment seems so much more sensible than the best efforts of an over-worked teacher with a diminishing pile of tattered text books. At colleges of further education, according to the recent TES survey "lecturing jobs are being cut as spending is switched to computers". It can't be long before schools follow their lead. And there can only be one thing worse than being a Tired, Wired, Retired, Wanna-be-Admired, or Inspired guy being a Fired Guy.

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