When Technology Goes Wrong

Frequent readers will know that last week, because of International Women’s Day, Sasha and the rest of Ukraine was on holiday for a couple of days from Thursday. Then there was a weekend and, not that it is an issue for you, it meant that we were, in effect, out of contact for four days.

I tried. I sent messages, but nothing came back. I phoned, but there was no answer. It just rang and rang. I hated not being able to say, hello.

She didn’t answer any messages on Viber or answer her phone when I called. Maybe it is my rampant imagination, but all sort of accident scenarios came to mind. Three thousand miles is a long way just to pop round and see if everything was OK. Among all the scenarios I worked through, the one thing I didn’t think was the obvious, her phone was broken.

Now that we have resumed contact and my nerve ends have calmed I have thought about the experience.

As I look at my computer and smartphone I can use email, Viber, WhatsApp, WeChat or I could just phone and talk. I have multiple business and personal email addresses to monitor. The range is frightening. Sasha, because of her work also has multiple phones. But, still, we didn’t manage to communicate.

Read the internet and there are millions of articles reminding us just how important good communications are. You know it all. This is one example, it is no doubt that communication plays a vital role in human life. It not only helps to facilitate the process of sharing information and knowledge but also helps people to develop relationships with others.

We know that. We don’t need to be reminded.

Mothers and fathers all over the country are waiting for their offspring to utter a first word. Unless we talk or communicate we can’t educate and learn. It is also simplistic and a huge understatement to say communications helps people to develop relationships. Relationships, business or personal are all about communications.

I am an avid reader of the internet and with my background in data management, I rank myself as a bit of a whiz at finding things. I understand how search terms work and I use different search engines. I read many ideas about what a company should do to communicate both successes and problems. I read about individuals who can’t communicate for both physical and emotional reasons but nothing about how to manage my emotions when we want to communicate but technology fails us.

I know I can’t be unique and the only one to suffer.

It started long ago. I remember when I was a teenager. It is so long ago there were no mobile phones, no internet, nor email. There was just the landline phone sitting on a table in the hall. I might have met a girl and we would meet on a Saturday night and then maybe only have one short call before meeting again. Even those calls were fraught with tension as we would run the wrath of parents by phoning her at home. My abiding memories of those days were less of love but more the agony and pain of not being able to talk and plan our next tryst.

We may have moved technology forward from my teenage days, but the problems remain.

If you don’t know Sasha and I are living a long-distance relationship where good, honest, and open communications are core. In a long-distance relationship, we rely on technology more than most people. If that technology fails, we have a problem.

We write to each other every day and there is a routine and habit. I send my letters overnight and those from Sasha arrive mid-morning. It is comforting in its repetitiveness but when a letter doesn’t arrive, as happened for a period when the ISP started rejecting my emails, panic ensues. Of course, I didn’t know there is a problem. I have written and sent a letter and so, just assume that it will arrive.

Again, all those thoughts of accidents or illness were to the fore. For Sasha, it was made worse when last year I was a frequent visitor to hospitals and every visit could be but wasn’t bad news. I received urgent and concerned messages from Kiev.

Of course, when you think messages and emails are just heading into the ether there is always the obvious alternative. We could just phone each other.

Now, at least, my days are not rushed. I work sitting at my computer trying to find appropriate words. There is a routine and predictability. At times it gets boring and I want to contact Sasha. I can send a message, or better I can phone.

But Sasha’s life is less structured. She works on projects organising models for photo shoots or is herself the model. Her workday is busy, chaotic, and doesn’t have the same tempo as mine. She is not available to communicate at a whim. I know this, I understand but still, it can drive me round the bend.

We assume that because the other person has a phone we should be able to speak to them anytime we want, but the phone is the most obtrusive of devices. It sits there, ringing and demanding to be answered.

I am always complaining that we don’t talk enough on the phone. I say it doesn’t matter if it is only for a minute we need the contact. What I really mean is that I need the contact and more importantly, when it suits me. We haven’t yet resolved that issue, but we are working on a solution.

I was never precisely sure what Marshall McLuhan meant when in the 1950s he said, the medium is the message. Many have tried to explain it me but here maybe is an example of what he meant. The availability of technology has set new expectations which we can’t always live up to.

Long distance relationships are not easy, but the new technologies make it easier than it once was. Of course, all relationships need trust, we need to be open and honest but more important we need the technology to work.

Alexandra – Stories of Sensual Fantasies

It was just over three years ago that I met one of Sasha’s best friend, Alexandra. We got on well, just as I have with all of Sasha’s friends, but this has also turned into a professional relationship as she has provided the core content of the book, Alexandra, a collection of women’s erotic fantasies.

Like Sasha, Alexandra is a photographic model, but this is not her main profession. In her normal working day, she is a psychologist. I am fascinated talking to psychologists as the working of the mind attracts me, but Alexandra was particularly interesting because of her speciality.

Alexandra is an expert in female erotic and sensual fantasies. The collaboration was born.

As we talked, I asked if we could turn her case studies into a book and, of course, the answer was an emphatic, no. Like all medical professionals, there is a strict ethical code around clinical confidentiality.

I remember as she said ‘however’. My interest perked. ‘However, there may be a way.’ she said.

We came to an arrangement that meant that Alexandra was going to take all her cases, mix in her own experiences, consolidate some, change locations, anonymise everything, and then I could take them, to turn into a book. And that was how I bought the raw outlines of a book, ready to edit.

There was a lot of work to do. I decided that it would read far better with just a single, central character and of course it had to be Alexandra, herself. It gives the book a narrative trail and makes for a far easier read. It was also one more mask to preserve the worrisome confidentialities.

The editing task was not as easy as I thought it would be. This was a book about women and there was a great deal of debate between myself, Alexandra, and Sasha. I would write one of what turned into 58 short stories and send it off only for it to be returned with corrections. This normally meant removing any male prejudices I had written in.

But we got there and Alexandra is now published.

Of course, I am telling you all this to titillate and hope that you will be interested to buy and read it. Let me direct you to the website www.AlexasFantasies.com

However, there is a wider motive in today’s piece.

Writers of fiction and I now class myself as one, live in a world of fantasy and according to President Trump with his cries of fake news, so does every journalist. When I write all that I do is describe what is in my mind. I can see the action unfolding and just wish my typing fingers could keep up with the action. I am just chronicling the fantasy.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t daydream part of their life away. On another day I described how I imagine and envision upcoming meetings as part of a planning and rehearsal process. I close my eyes and, stretching the definition of the word, fantasise an outcome.

Similarly, there were many headlines I could have chosen. This one was from The New York Times in 2014: Olympians Use Imagery as Mental Training. Imagining is at the core of elite athlete training. This is again no more than fantasising.

But, there is a dark side. These last few months have seen a storm of sex scandals across a range of industries from film producers, actors, and lately the charity and voluntary sector. At the heart of all of those are men, in the majority, who have turned fantasies into a warped reality. Well, that is the presumption. We will never know if they sat in their offices with these fantasies or acted on impulse.

While working on Alexandra I researched how important fantasies are to us. For once I am not going to bore you with a history from Freud to postmodern psychological interpretations but ask the simple question: are fantasies best left to be enjoyed as a daydream or are they the spur to achieve and be fulfilled?

Alexandra is equivocal, and rightly so.

We were sitting in a quiet café in Kiev when we chatted just a couple of weeks ago. She pointed me to the awful global stories of sexual harassment. ‘Those men require help,’ she said. ‘And then there are those who are delusional and have deep psychosis. You could say the schizophrenic has fantasies. These people need treatment and not encouragement to fulfil their fantasies.’

Let me make one point very clear immediately. I am an avid supporter of the #MeToo movement proving we must be careful what stays in the fantasy world and what crosses over into the real.

‘But,’ she added, ‘For Mr and Mrs Normal, people like you and Sasha, people like me, there can be great benefit from living out some fantasies. So long as they are bound within safe limits and don’t draw in other reluctant people, they can be good.

‘Sensual fantasies are best when they are shared with your partner. They encourage communication in the relationship and that is always good.’

On the Alexandra website, we have launched a survey of sensual fantasies (sorry to all my male readers it is only for women although you can see the results). Of course, it is a pre-selected group but 90% of women say that they sometimes, mostly, or always share their fantasies with their partner.

Gender stereotyping had me believing that the world of erotic fantasy was predominately a male preserve. Not so. An evening spent with Sasha and Alexandra quickly taught me otherwise. Reading the stories Alexandra sent, convinced.

‘Women have been repressed in their sexuality, but it has changed,’ Alexandra said. ‘They now feel empowered to say what they want and one of the problems is that not all men recognise it. That is one of the tensions in a relationship.’

Fantasies are not a subject we discuss. In a recent survey, 61% of respondents said that even though they talk about their fantasies, they feel there’s a public stigma.

I don’t want to draw far-reaching conclusions. I can happily leave that to you. The book, Alexandra, is nothing more than a good, late night read for both men and women but behind it are some deeper thoughts about our society and relationships.

I was just the editor and I will leave the last words to its author.

‘If I was going to offer any advice to you and Sasha,’ she said, ‘I would tell you to explore all the sensual and erotic fantasies you have. Talk about them. Communicate. Decide where the limits are and work to those limits. Plan carefully and talk, talk, talk. It will bring you closer. It will build your relationship.’

Inspirational Leaders: Richard Sawyer

Inspiration comes in many ways and sometimes it is just one meeting that can inspire and change all following behaviour. So it was after my one and only meeting with Richard Sawyer.

It is very unlikely that you will know Richard Sawyer. He was someone I met on a project while working at Mars Electronics in the 1980s. My job was to develop a set of performance indicators in line with the culture and he was as senior manager and just one of the many people I met.

Mars Electronics was part of the global Mars Group (yes, Mars Bars and all that) with a culture driven by its family roots. At the time I was there the Mars family were still heavily involved and I think they had just introduced globally their ‘5 Principles’ but if not, there was something very equivalent in place.

My first task was to try and understand the culture.

I was talking to Richard who told me that everyone’s bonus, which was driven by personal as much as corporate performance, made up a very significant part of the total remuneration. Also, up to a third of the bonus was determined by feedback from colleagues. It was taking 360-degree reviews further than most have even ventured today.

‘Surely, it’s a cosy cabal,’ I said. ‘If money is involved then you will all rate each other highly to make sure you all get paid?

‘No,’ he said.

‘Have you ever had a poor review?’

‘Yes, and it cost about 15% of my total salary that year, but I learnt from it.’

Richard went on to tell me that he had been running a significant project on behalf of a local Board member. In turn that Board member was leading the project and reporting up the chain to Head Office in the USA. It was high visibility.

Together, Richard and his boss, had agreed the budget and a three-month development and implementation plan. Everything was going fine, Richard said, although it got very tight at the end. The budget was good but his final project sign-off was touch and go. He said that he had used up all his contingency and signed off the project with his team 48 hours before the deadline and sent a notification to his boss.

‘A big cost overrun?’ I asked.

‘Nope.’

‘It sounds almost perfect,’ I said. ‘Bang on budget and the time planning was good. So, where was the problem?’ I watched as Richard relived the moment when he lost a lot of salary. It was a long minute of silence.

‘I learnt that communication is every bit as important as all the technical skills,’ he said.

He continued. ‘I knew that my boss was responsible to higher authorities and while I knew that the project was tight but on target I just forget to tell him. We had a really good relationship and I thought he would know it was on time because I hadn’t told him it was late. I thought we had that kind of relationship. He knew that if I had a problem I would tell him, and I would have told him of any problems.’

So, what went wrong?’ I asked.

‘At the end he was with his bosses in the USA and I just didn’t want to bother him with a message that said everything was good. Why bother him with no news? But he had been phoned by his boss, who had been phoned by his boss and they both wanted assurances that the project would be delivered on time.’

I was starting to understand.

‘In Mars we are always honest with each other and he had to say to his boss that he thought all was good, but he didn’t really know,’ Richard said. ‘That is why I didn’t get my full bonus because as far as my boss was concerned the project was a failure. Technically it was good but on communication it failed.’

‘An expensive mistake, if it was even a mistake,’ I said. ‘Could you appeal?’

‘Maybe. I don’t know,’ he said, ‘but it was a mistake and I didn’t even think of that. I will never make that mistake again.’

It was a lesson I have never forgotten, and that was the day as a young manager I learnt that my bosses can always handle delays and problems if I tell them. What is more, if my communication is good often they can help in the solution.

It may seem to be very macho to take away a problem and come back two months later with a solution, but it is not good project management and that is why you might find you lose your bonus or even a promotion.