Wednesday 17 July 2013

cuts and efficiency - and acronyms

Another one before I leave for lunch (which I never normally have).
The cutting of funding (in this instance the National Health Service) is announced stereotypically as "efficiency savings". I first encountered this piece of lying jargon in 1981 when the Thatcher government introduced severe and abrupt cuts in university spending. Cutting money does not introduce efficiency. Is it efficient to reduce the number of nurses?
The kind of efficiency that is meant in this world of double-think is that is defined by more managers ticking more boxes. Efficiency should be defined in relation to the proportion of staff time devoted to doing the actual job (i.e. treating patients or teaching) and the reduction in the amount of managerial processes needed to achieve this. One reason why the National Health Service suffers disasters in care, of the kind just published, is because well-meaning people in the front line have been dragooned into believing that satisfying managerial imperatives is a higher priority to their continued employment than the simple, humane business of care. No-one goes into front-line care with the intention of neglecting patients.
Along the way... I'm thinking of writing something in praise of (humane) inefficiency.
Also along the way... you might note that I have not written "NHS".
I am the founder and to date the only member of SAC; the Society for the Abolition of Acronyms. Like all forms of jargon, acronyms convey a spurious notion of special knowledge and serve to keep outsiders outside. Not good.

mobiles, texts, emails, desperation, time

The story about the the check-out operator who refused to proceed until the customer ceased mobiling (if there is such a nasty word) is hardly new, but it carries a wider truth. It is extraordinary how an otherwise considerate and well-mannered person can sever a conversation mid-sentence to dive into their bag, pocket or pouch to take a call or intercept a text. Were someone to join 2 people who were already talking, basic courtesies would be observed - introductions or whatever. There is often a sense of near desperation to catch the latest incoming thing, seemingly stemming from some kind of anxiety or even a need to feel wanted.
Much the same is true of the constant need to check actively for messages, emails etc. There is clearly some basic psychological mechanism at work here. Whatever its nature, we see that minutes, hour, days become fragmented by incoming "stuff", much of it trivial and almost all of which can wait. Many of the the "urgent" things and "emergencies" are more cosmetic than real.
My own personal answer (as someone who loves the opportunities presented by the technologies) is  to have my phone almost always on vibrate (which is less insistent that ringing), unless I know that I need to link at short notice with someone. I also have restricted the number of people, and especially organisations, that have access to my mobile number. I'm fortunate to have a separate office number at home. If I do need to answer an incoming call, I will say to the person(s) I am with, "will you excuse me", and move to somewhere quiet if possible.
I never use email on my phone. I can but don't. This is a way of saying that I will not deal with emails other than when I decide or have the opportunity to hook up my laptop. This is basically a way of organising time. It is a mechanism (entirely contrived) to package up my emailing, writing, conversations into reasonably sustained bouts of time and really focussing on those activities to which I dedicated those packages of time. I don't do it as well as I would like.

Otherwise there is so much desperate fragmentation. I have friends who are more or less addicted to to electronic communication at the expense of coherence in their daily lives.

I occasionally write bits of formatted prose. Not good enough to be called poems. I wrote this one some time ago, which seems relevant if a rather devoid of hope.


I'm craving space, Leonardo's 'continuous quantity'.
Space to breathe the country air, 
To hear the distant sounds of stirring nature, 
To have no task to perform other than to feel time passing, 
Transcendently calm in one of those moments of shared love, 
Extending into the geometry of the eternally infinite. 

But the jolting assault of the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. 
The abrupt, broken discords of outer demands, 
The fragmentation of days, hours, minutes, seconds 
Into discontinuous shards of numbered events. 
Cracked vessels seeping desperate hopes. 
Were they ever whole? 
Or were they made incomplete, 
Mocking illusions of an intactness that never was?  


Again, a long gap. I fear that the blog does not have a high enough priority to lever aside set deadlines. It's really not a blog, which implies some regularity, but consists of intermittent pontifications. I'm waiting to have lunch with Colin Franklin (Rosalind's brother), and will see what I can do before I go.
More to come...