Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Slave to the Machine

I'm not knocking IT. I use it all day at work, half the night at home, sometimes when I'm on the move too. And there are real advantages to it. I've used it for almost 20 years for Guiding too - progress charts, and accounts, and creating presentations when doing public speaking, and unit websites. Holding meetings over the internet so that we don't all have to leave our houses and traipse across town (and in some cases organise babysitters or grannysitters).

But, in the past couple of years, IT in Guiding has quickly ceased to simply be that useful timesaving aid to our work that it used to be, and has started to become a burden which takes up hours most of us can ill spare. We are faced with having to deal with forms which we are meant to submit by email - but which don't work on some computers, so we end up printing them off, handing them over, handwriting bits in, that person scans them back in, mails them on, and so on. Or which lose the inserted text when they are emailed and we have to spend time telling the next person down the line what to re-type in each box. We are faced with websites which regularly crash, or are down for maintenance, or which don't fully work, but which we are still meant to update by the deadline or else. Instead of the rulebook with updates published annually, we are now faced with a website which suddenly and without warning tells us there is a change - but expects us to find time to look and see quite what the change is and whether the change is relevant to us or not. (I dread the day when someone faces a parent claiming damages for an accident and a lawyer pointing out a rule change two days before the trip which meant the unit shouldn't have done things the way they did, the way which was still perfectly permissable a week before the event when the Leader last checked).

And there are times when the admin for my hobby - seems to take up as much time as the admin I do for a job, and I start to wonder which one I should be drawing the wage for!

I'm not the stuck-in-the-past rebel shouting 'smash the machines'. For I can see the benefits that have been brought by the computers - including fora like this one. But just as, in my heritage collecting habit, I have to choose between what is valuable and ought to be preserved, and what cannot be realistically stored and so should be let go, so I would like someone to look at the way IT is proliferating in Guiding, and to ask of each thing the question, is this a reasonable demand to make of our volunteers? Does this new system justify the amount of work the volunteers will have to put into it? Is this email giving them information that they will find useful, or just the things I think they should hear?

And is consideration really given to the fact that there are still a meaningful number of leaders who don't have a computer at home, who don't necessarily have access to economical printing, who meet in locations which aren't on the phone far less broadband? And a further number who are not very experienced with computers and who will not just 'pick it up' if trainings are rushed through or not held at all - yet who are expected to muddle through as best they can? Or is too much being asked of our volunteers . . .

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