A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Up the roof

Is it a simile? Is it a metaphor? Just what is Neil Pickford on about?
Well dear reader, I hope this message reaches you as it leaves me because, frankly, I’m not too convinced that the interweb thingy is working properly at the moment.
Despite paying my bills on time and being a good, loyal customer, Kingston Communications has been unable to supply me with a reliable e-mail service for the last few hours.
It is an act of faith that leads me to continue typing this deathless prose, working on the assumption that, sooner or later, the work experience person who inadvertently pulled the plug on the server will discover their error and push it back in again. Once that happens then I should be able to reconnect with the outside world and not disappoint my legion of fans (most of whom are probably afflicted with a similar non-connecting problem as myself).
Hey ho – it’s a tough life being a conscientious blogger.
Mind you, it’s got me thinking again about the world in which we live and how it’s becoming increasingly dependent on electricity and electronic inter-connectivity. The electronic version of the world is increasingly becoming the real one. Just take one example at random: Google Street View.
Now, like many people, when this new “comprehensive” photographic record of Britain was finally released I tapped in my own postcode to see what the all-encompassing cameramen had captured of my home. I had to laugh.
It was obviously a Friday when the cameraman came round and it happened to be Blue Bin day  So now Sven from Sweden, Hank from Honolulu or Nigel in Nigeria can now see that my neighbourhood abounds with obtrusive coloured boxes by the side of the road. They may quite reasonably conclude that they are always there and judge us accordingly.
They will, perhaps more damagingly, conclude that my house is a building site – on the pictures it is surrounded by scaffolding and there is a huge hole where, for the last two years, a pair of doors has hung triumphant.
But, more damagingly still, the ignorant so-and-sos have got the name of my road wrong. It’s the same in all the electronic maps – type in my postcode and you get a different street name to the one it should be.
Not a problem – until you find out they’re using the same electronic database for your Satnav. Then, as friends recently discover when they tried to visit, you are guided to a different part of Beverley – and that’s no good.
The electronic reality is factually wrong, but it’s the only world it knows and so all humans who are increasingly relying on this information will be sent to the wrong destination when they try and visit.
I just wonder how widespread these errors are. Do I live on the only street in the whole world that Google has got wrong or, as seems more likely to me, is the whole database full of garbage?
What’s prompted this rant is that I’m planning my day – today is the equivalent of my Sunday (Wednesday) and I’ve got a huge hedge to grub out. Will the weather be suitable or should I apply myself to catching up the backlog of internal tasks? I don’t know because I can’t access the Met Office weather site. Mind you, not that that is very helpful. Their new super-super computer is supposed to be able to forecast Climate Change over the next few centuries but, as anyone whose tracked their ever-changing Five Day Forecast will know, they’d be better off sticking their fingers out of the window to find out the real weather.
It failed again over the Easter weekend, predicting a storm-lashed public holiday which must have persuaded some people not to risk the real world.
It may well have affected visitor numbers to the Minster as well – we were running our normal full day of roof tours on the Saturday and Monday and both days got off to a worryingly slow start. However, it started to pick up – people began saying: “Well, we looked at the forecast and were going to stay in, but then the rain never came so we thought we’d come here.”
Thanks to people deciding to make their own judgements rather than accept those being electronically fed to them our overall numbers were quite satisfactory by the end of each day and we’d had several hundred very satisfied individuals of all ages come back downstairs beaming after an interesting hour in our roof.
These individuals might well have missed this experience because of rubbish electronic information if they hadn’t retained the capacity for independent thought and investigated the real world. It’s a provocative concept.
Mind you, if I can’t e-mail this blog to the blogosphere this provocative concept is not going to be available for wider consideration and everyone expecting my weekly dribble to be available on its normal date will be disappointed.
They may very well conclude that I’m unreliable which, I suppose in electronic terms, may be the case. But in reality…
I’m sure those lovely people at Kingston Communications are as upset about this system failure as I am. They’re probably desperately wanting to send me an e-mail apologising for this ‘outage’ (as failures are now called, as if changing the term for failure really changes reality. Actually, it does seem to these days doesn’t it?)
Oooops, sorry, got diverted there.
Anyway and however. Because those caring Kingstonians can’t get through to me then I am free to draw my own, probably unwarranted, conclusions about work experience children and inadvertently pulled plugs.
The moral of this story, if there is such a thing, is: “don’t be afraid to stick your metaphorical finger out of the metaphorical window.”
Find out for yourself which way the metaphorical wind is blowing and don’t rely on electrons and the digital world to be your only source of information. Get real.
First published April 2010


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