Saturday, February 19, 2011

You've Got Mail

If someone were to ask me what the worst invention in history was, you would think that I’d say, “Maybe the atomic bomb?” Or Crocs shoes, perhaps. Or economy class cabins. Or you might even think I’d nominate toy poodles, like the kind Paris Hilton swings around in her Birkin.

But you’d be wrong, Ryan Seacrest! Because in my books, the worse invention in history is e-mail.

Now, I know what everyone’s thinking. “Is he crazy? E-mail? My God, how would we communicate?”

But, you see, that’s precisely my point. We communicate too much these days. And sometimes, we’re forced to communicate even if it’s the last thing we want to do.

The other day, I wrote an e-mail to a PR gal asking for a picture of a restaurant that she was representing.

She wrote back and asked me how many images I wanted and cc’d three other people in her office and her client.

I replied to her, carefully avoiding the ‘Reply all’ button, saying that I just wanted an interior shot and a picture of their hamburger.

She replied, again cc’ing the original four people plus her boss, that this wouldn’t be a problem and to thank me for my support.

Which should have been the end of the matter, except that her boss then replied to her – cc’ing the three people in the PR office, the client and me and his secretary – asking her to double check with the photographer if there were any new images besides the ones that they already had.

Which she duly did, cc’ing everyone already in the e-mail thread and this time adding the photographer and his assistant.

“Isn’t that like 30 emails just to ask for a picture of a hamburger?” Saffy asked later that evening when I told her how my day had gone.

“Yes!” I moaned. “And it was all so incredibly pointless! It wasn’t like I was asking her for the equation to cure cancer! That stupid thread took me half an hour to get through! And the other three people in her office didn’t even say anything, but they must have also received the 15mB attachments from the photographer because he cc’d everybody, including his office manager and his business partner!”

After I’d finally received the pictures from the PR girl and I’d sent them to my magazine’s photo editor, all I could think of was that it must have been a slow day in Hell when someone decided to invent e-mail.

The thing about e-mail is that it’s made communication so easy and, now, people just want to communicate all the time. About anything. Things that once were thought about and carefully mulled over before being committed to a blank piece of paper and then posted are now dashed off in seconds. Hit ‘Enter’ and it suddenly, mysteriously, instantaneously lands in someone’s electronic in-box.

And because it’s done so quickly, you think, “Oh, I should send an email to someone else!” And before you know it, the day is over and everyone has gone home. Except you. You and the person on the other end of the e-mail thread. He’s determined to be the last one standing in this electronic stand-off. Because there’s always something more to be said, even if it’s just a stupid smiley emoticon.

Because when it comes to office email, these same people also want to make sure that as many people as humanly possible know that they’re working just so that they look like they’re super busy and efficient. E-mails and the cc function are the new time-sheet.

“Oh, God, don’t get me started,” Saffy said. “People are just generally lazy and trying to cover their not so pretty asses. My hardcopy back up files are thicker than a phone-book.”

But the flipside is that if anything goes wrong, it’s all there in a nice, long e-mail thread. And worse, it’s been cc’d here and there so many times, that it makes everyone look like a complete idiot.

“If only I could publish my in-box,” Saffy said. “It’s like Corporate Wikileaks!”

Amanda says this is why she never sends e-mails unless it’s to forward a joke. “I always just pick up the phone and deal with it right there and then. That photo request of yours would have taken 30 seconds to sort out! And you leave the minimum paper-trail to incriminate you later!”

“But sometimes I don’t want to talk to them!”

“Then you call them during the lunch hour when they’re not around and leave a message!”

Saffy says it sickens her that Amanda is so clever.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Career Minded

The other day, as I emerged from the bathroom, all freshly scrubbed and clean and headed for my bedroom, I passed Saffy’s open door. She was seated at her dressing table staring at her reflection in the mirror and singing softly.

What’s it all about, Sa-affy? Is it just for the moment we live?

I stopped at the door.

What’s it all about when you sort it out, Saffy? Are we meant to take more than we gi… Oh. My. God! How long have you been standing there, Jason! You’re like a creepy stalker!”

“Well, excuse me for having fully functional ears!” I said, then paused, waiting for a snappy comeback. But there was none. “What’s the matter with you? You’ve been moping around for days now.”

Saffy sighed, her fabulous bosom deflating with uncharacteristic defeat.

“Well, if you must know, I’m depressed!”

It turned out she had just had her annual performance review at work and it had not gone well.

“Apparently, I don’t take enough initiative. I don’t care enough, my boss said.”

I hesitated. “But isn’t that your job? To care? After all, you are the head of HR in that company!”

“But can someone tell me how I’m supposed to care about a bunch of talentless, lazy, good for nothings who are barely qualified to do the job they’ve been hired to do? And that’s just senior management! One of whom includes my boss!”

“Maybe it’s time to switch jobs?” I suggested.

“Ugh. It’ll be the same old crap at the next job. It’s all so incredibly pointless!”
Saffy’s point, of course, is that it’s all very well to have a fancy job description, but that only works if all the other elements are in place. To use her very lively analogy, it’s like being a chef at a French restaurant and the only thing your customers want is hamburger.

“It’s such a thankless job,” Saffy went on. “Janet Sia over in accounts hates her job because she’s doing the job of three people while her boss complains that all Janet ever does is chat online. And Janet says that chatting online with her support group of friends is the only thing that keeps her sane and anyway, why does her boss care as long as the work gets done even if it means Janet has to work till 10 each night and miss, and I quote, the best years of her children growing up? Meanwhile, I’m thinking, why am I responsible for everyone’s happiness? What about my happiness?”

The thing about modern working life is that the longer you do it, the more you realize how soul sapping it all is. Ask anyone and chances are they’ll tell you that if they had a choice, they’d be doing something else.

“God, I’d be a wedding planner!” Amanda said, when I asked her for her dream job. “I’d be so good at it. Interior design, bossing people around, flower arrangements, tasting food, wedding dresses. What’s not to love?”

“Me, hah?” Sharyn asked, her eyes enormous behind her thick glasses. “I think I want to be a spy!"

I was astonished. “For whom?”

“For Singapore gah-men, lor!”

Barney Chen says his dream job is to be an angel in a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. “Body glitter, high heels, big wings, skimpy bikinis, big hair and lots of celebrities in the audience, I’d be in heaven!” he growled.

The question haunts Saffy. She recently changed her Facebook profile quote from “Do I look like I give a crap?” to “Nobody, on their deathbed, ever said, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office’.”

It also disturbs her that everyone else seems to already know what their dream job is.

“You would think my dream job is to be a tai-tai, but I know I’d be bored by the time I’ve bought my second Birkin and sipped my first cup of tea.”

Barney suggested that she join him in the runway show at Victoria’s Secret to which Saffy replied that she feels too bloated to even think about squeezing into a string bikini.

“Well, I guess that rules out being a stripper then,” Barney said, adding, “which would be my second dream job.”

“And he was dead serious, too!” Saffy reported later.

Meanwhile, Janet Sia has resigned to become a stay-at-home mother, which Saffy thinks is incredibly selfish seeing as this is extra work for her to find a replacement.

“I’m so over it! Maybe I will be a tai-tai! I just have to find a man first!”

And that, as we know, is a whole other story.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

News Flash

As I write this, the whole world is riveted by the troubles in Egypt. You can’t open a newspaper or turn on the TV or the radio without another to-the-minute update of the latest clash between ordinary Egyptians and the police.

“Seriously, is it just me or is all this coverage on Egypt just a little bit too much?” my flatmate Saffy asked a few days ago at breakfast. She flipped the page on her iPad. “Look at this! It just keeps going and going!”

Amanda looked up from her cereal. “Well, it has important consequences for the world. The unrest is making the stock market jittery. And when my shares are shaken, I am not a happy girl!”

Saffy’s legendary bosom deflated. “It’s not as if there’s anything new to report. Day after day, it’s the same thing: Riots, clashes, people getting injured, America is upset. Then it’s more riots, more clashes and some more people die.”

“They’re fighting for democracy!” Amanda said, her brow furrowed. “Isn’t that important?”

“Sure it is,” Saffy said. “But so is the state of my bowels and I’m not getting front page news! I’ve been constipated for four days now and lemme tell ya, the extra gas levels aren’t doing the ozone layer much good!”

Amanda got up with her bowl of cereal and disappeared into the kitchen.

Without missing a beat, Saffy turned to me. “It’s why I try not to read the newspaper anymore!” she declared. “There’s just too much bad news in this world. It’s all so very depressing!”

As I later said to Karl, just when you thought Saffy couldn’t surprise you anymore, she went and came up with an insight like this.

I guess it’s a little like funerals. The first one you go to is so unimaginably sad, what with everyone red eyed and weepy. The second one, you still cry a little but you find yourself looking around the church and wondering why no one has dusted the pews.

By your tenth funeral, you’re mentally making to-do lists while the minister is rabbiting on about being welcomed into God’s Kingdom and later, you wonder why, if God’s Kingdom is that great, everyone is so upset that the recently deceased has gone there.

Same with the evening news. You greet reports of the first casualty of a war with horror. By the end of the third week of the same war, the horror is replaced first with sadness and abject hopelessness, and finally with faint interest as you get dressed for dinner with your friends.

I think it’s because the brain can take only so much horror. It’s like watching “Kill Bill” or “Inglourious Basterds”. After a while, all that blood and gore is no longer shocking because you’ve shut down and stop acknowledging any of it.

This morning, Saffy sat down to breakfast. She picked up the paper and began flipping through it in silence. The paper rustled like a metronome. She never stopped to read an article. In less than a minute, she’d finished flipping through it.

“You know what,” she said, “somebody should come up with a newspaper that only prints good news!”

Amanda peered up from her 8DAYS horoscopes.

“No really, I mean it,” Saffy continued. “No bad news. Just good stuff. Like people getting married. Someone winning the lottery. A new recipe for chocolate cake. A cure for pimples. Madonna adopting another child from Africa. Brad Pitt leaving Angelina Jolie for me. That sort of thing.”

Amanda said she wasn’t sure there’d be enough of that to fill an entire newspaper.

“And what does that say about us?” Saffy demanded.

The question bothers me because like so many people, I’ve come to accept bad news every time I turn on the TV or open a newspaper. What worries me is the fact that so little of it seems to affect me anymore. Because it’s happening to someone else in some other country and as long as it doesn’t directly affect me, I’ll just get on with my day.

When did I stop caring? And will more good news help me recover a degree of compassion?

Saffy thinks it will. She says she’s starting her campaign for more good news publications by giving her best friend Sharyn a year’s subscription to 8DAYS on the basis that it usually has lots of good, clean, family fun news. Except for when it covers Hollywood sex scandals. “And pictures of Christopher Lee’s latest ugly outfit and hairdo,” she added. “Seriously, that Fann Wong needs to put her foot down. I mean, she lives with the man. Has she seen his wardrobe lately? Talk about bad news!”