Smirking From Home

Turning ideas into words.

What’s On Your Mind? – Revisited

Last month I vented forth on the inanity of Facebook. For the most part I vehemently stand by my original opinion, albeit now, with a slight amendment. The reason for doing so is inherently selfish and I cannot feel ashamed nor guilty about it. Accusations of hypocrisy will be taken on board, mulled over, chewed a while, swallowed and removed via the appropriate canals. Every so often a little spot of verbal sparring does no one any harm, so as always, I’m happy to correspond to any contradictions pointed out.
Recently I’ve been adding some old muckeroos and muckerettes to my friends’ list. It’s nice to know they’re all still knocking about and keeping well. One of them has, bizarrely enough, even scaled one of the highest mountains in the world, something which I had casually and unknowingly remarked about in my initial blog post. I’ll readily admit that as I received each friend invitation and acceptance e-mail, a fond memory came with them. IF you’re prone to the occasional moment of sentimentality, then Facebook can offer you a brief moment of comfort in these troublesome times. However, I will also admit to being delighted at the increased size of my friends list as it means a potentially larger number of individuals reading this blog.
A mercenary tactic? Well it would depend on your viewpoint. I genuinely don’t believe it is. The best critics of anything you do in life can be your friends or family, a lot less likely to pull their punches. True, they might also take the opposite route and be untruthfully kind but as someone who aspires to write more and to develop a unique style, a larger reader base is confidence-building. 
Any budding writer’s output will not be to everyone’s taste. We all like different styles of writing and varying subject matters. There are many out there who find Henning Mankell’s work hard going, particularly the non-Wallander novels, yet I believe he’s the most interesting detective in modern literature. Stieg Larsson is accused by his many detractors of blatant misogyny but like the more abundant fans of the Millenium trilogy, I understand he held the opposite view of women and tried to highlight the many injustices they suffer at the hands of men. I’m not intending to compare anything I ever write to their works. Rather it’s an acceptance that not everyone will find the humour in my posts nor agree with my political views. Hell, some of them might even find Dancing on Ice quality entertainment. That’s their choice.
Facebook is a means to an end. Where that end will be I have absolutely no frickin’ clue but the journey will be fun. Although the blog title “Smirking From Home” may convey images of a sad, greying 30-something, sitting at a PC, spewing invective at the modern world, I’ll point people towards the byline. It is about turning my ideas into words. Rantings and ravings, musings and mullings, all rattling around inside this big haired noggin. Like a damn good trump, better out than in, even if the side effects can be messy.
Baby wipes can be provided if you’re prepared to take the plunge. 

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Communicating, I Am What I Am | , , | Leave a comment

Can I Speak To…?

A couple of weeks ago I pontificated about some of the methods of communication we have at our disposal in this day and age. There’s an almost endless array of gadgets, applications and tools at our disposal, allowing us to stay in touch, buy items cheaply and the subject of today’s topic, be hassled by unknown entities. Increasingly often I answer the phone only to be addressed by a pre-recorded message telling me not to hang up as there’s an important message I need to hear. Even if I hadn’t had to drag my sorry backside off the couch, usually mid-babyfeed or nappy-from-hell changing, I doubt I’d still be amenable to whatever fantastic offer they had in store for me. There’s a small part of me that feels they’ve missed a trick with this pre-recorded voice malarkey. Your standard Queen’s English intonation doesn’t cut any mustard but if they adopted Stephen Hawking’s voice box then I could very well be lured in, even if they were not offering time-travel as opposed to timeshares.
It all smacks of desperation, or to be more accurate, a sad reflection of the current global economic situation. Five or six years ago a call centre in India would have been created to spam us with these random sales/information calls, whereas these days it’s obviously cheaper to knock something up using a dialer and some voice software. The Indian treasury must be feeling the heat by now. Admittedly the majority of “nuisance” calls we receive are still emanating from East. In the last week alone I’ve been contacted by four individuals offering me cheaper home insurance. I know I received the odd substantial bonus in my early years at the Prudential, but I cannot recall spending them on a beachfront condo in Mumbai. Whilst I can understand people “losing the bap” when they receive these calls, I cannot condone it. We’re a global society now. Virtually everyone is either a ring or a click away. No matter where someone is, or who they are, it’s their job, their source of income. Yes it’s annoying but a little common courtesy should be the order of the day. And if it persists then there’s always the Telephone Preference Service for those of you who reside in the UK. 
All this was brought to the forefront of my attention last week when I attended an interview for a sales job at a call centre in Belfast. The campaign was to call mobile phone users up and “persuade” them to switch provider. For 45 minutes of the interview we were ushered into the main hub to listen to a few calls being made by current employees. There’s no denying the fact, that no matter where an operation such as this exists, be it Belfast or Bangalore, it’s bloody soul-destroying. My background was primarily an inbound call centre, where people called you as they wanted to discuss something important to them. It too had its moments of stomach churning despair but on the whole I believed we provided a valuable service to policyholders, generally with good humour and sound knowledge of the company’s products. Nothing, though, prepared me for what I experienced last week.  There’s an expression I’m particularly fond of. You can teach a monkey to ride a bike but you can’t teach it to explain what it’s doing. In that short period of time I genuinely cannot recall seeing one person smile. The air was thick with silent streams of desperation, fragments of futile hopes to achieve any sale of some sort. I sat with one particular chap from Belfast who, in the course of the 45 minutes, contacted 12 answering machines, and spoke to 7 mobile phones users, 2 of whom told him to foxtrot oscar in no uncertain terms. The remainder had no interest whatsoever in taking out a £30 a month contract over the phone. You know the drill. You get the guff from the employer about how wonderful it is to work for them and how great the career prospects are. After a year you could be peeling your own bananas. With hard work and dedication, after two years, you could be showing others how to peel their bananas. I asked my phone-buddy what the average length of time someone stayed in the company for. He said 4 months. Unsurprisingly, that coincided with the probationary period. Maybe I’m looking back on my Prudential days with rose-tinted spectacles but I can genuinely state it was never anything like this, even in the dark days when people realised they couldn’t pay their mortgages when their endowments matured, let alone afford the speedboat they were “promised”. At least with those calls we had a captive audience.
I’m not overly optimistic about getting the job, sales not being my strongest natural attribute. What it does do is serve as a sharp reminder about two things: the necessity of finding a means a sustainable means of income but also to do it in a way that will not result in a breakdown of mental faculties. We’re caught over a barrel in many ways, especially the younger and recently redundant elements of the “searching for workforce”. There’s plenty of call centre jobs these days but they come at a price. And is that a price worth paying. I’d love to be able to definitively answer that. I’m not 100% convinced I can. One thing is remarkably evident though from browsing call centre jobs online and in the recruitment papers. There are very few inbound telephone roles these days, a clear indication of cutbacks in the  customer service industry. When they start using voice messages as opposed to highly educated and friendly Indians, then we are truly on the slippery slope downwards to meltdown in that sector. It’ll all reverse itself again in the future no doubt. It generally does. What form it will take is hard to second guess. Although I’ll hazard a guess that it’ll occur at exactly the same time when the banking bastards decide they’ll start offering you credit cards and cheap loans again, rather than answer any simple question you may have about your account. That’s another story for another time though.
To end on a slightly jollier note, a good friend of mine gave me a brief insight into how he deals with cold-callers. Knowing him as well as I do at this stage, I wouldn’t doubt him for a second. It’s more than likely been toned down for public consumption.
“Good evening sir. I’m calling on behalf of <insert random company name I’ve never heard of> and I’d like to offer you -”
 “Ah yes, I’d like to order the American Hot please, with extra jalapenos.”
 *stunned silence*
 “Oh, and I may as well take advantage of your special and have a 2 litre coke with that. Cheers mate!”
There’s more than one way to skin the cat it seems.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | Communicating | , | 2 Comments

What’s On Your Mind?

What’s On Your Mind?
Ooh! Interesting. Yer man has decided to stop picking his nose due to a decrease in flavour. I would wash your hands less mate. Who’s next? Let me see. So and so has taken a quiz and discovered they most resemble Dipsy. Did you remember to put the cork back in the bottle before you took the test? Welcome to Facebook, the online social network for those with multiple personality disorders. One minute you’re a Teletubby, the next you think you’re a Jammie Dodger. A natural progression indeed. Next up, what type of prescription drug are you? I’d hazard a guess at Abilify. No need to thank me.
Maybe I should just accept that I’m a grumpy aging fart and that I’ll never fully understand the appeal of Facebook. Actually I do understand the appeal of Facebook, I just cannot see the reason why, if that’s not too illogical. There’s a certain pleasure in knowing that people you’ve met throughout your life haven’t yet been hit by a bus but seriously, that’s as much as you need to know. If you’ve climbed Everest then I can appreciate why you would want people to know but the fact that your cat has stopped shitting in the window box is not newsworthy. Unless you work for ITV.
Yesterday the waffling was about communication and how I felt we should bring things back to basics, make our messages to one another clear and concise. Facebook, though, is not an ideal medium for this, at least not how it’s being interpreted by the majority of its users. Ideally it would be a medium where ideas could be shared, arrangements made and yarns told with wit, verve or pathos. Scratching yer arse whilst listening to is none of the above. I’m sure it gives you great pleasure but I’d venture that 95% of your “friends” would think otherwise.
Somebody asked me just after Robert was born whether I would post pictures of the wee man on Facebook. I know it’s a popular thing to do but I’m currently loathe to do it. I don’t mean to be facetious here but anybody who truly needs to see him has either done so already or is a close enough friend to send personal photos via e-mail to. University and life thereafter provided me with many good acquaintances but pictures of or updates about their children? No Sirree. No matter how chubby their wee cheeks or how curly their locks are. It’s nothing personal. If the baby was born whilst you were riding Space Mountain then that’s a different story. That’s worthy of more than a status update. Maybe I’m being a little hypocritical here, seeing as my profile picture consists of Eloise and her Rudolph Water-ring. Then again, it’s better than my ugly mug.
Facebook is now a behemoth that’s on a crazed rampage throughout our lives. Are we prepared to let it continue taking over? There are other ways of communicating with the people you genuinely care about, and these don’t consist of sending them animated smiles or various farm animals. What makes you think I’m going to poke you now when you refused me the opportunity on that drunken Saturday night back in college? Whatever ridicule is thrown in the direction of the online-gamer, I can guarantee you’ll get more satisfying social interaction from World of Warcraft than you ever will from Facebook. That’s a topic for another blog though.
Naturally I can expect a strenuous series of rebuttles from avid users of Facebook. Bring it on I say. I only request the following: that you use more than 50 characters and you talk as yourself, not as a packet of Monster Munch.

February 18, 2010 Posted by | Communicating | , | 1 Comment

Speaking in Tongues

People complain in this day and age about an increasing lack of verbal communication in society. Seemingly we are all to busy sowing the seeds of arthritis in our thumbs or rubbing the grammar police up the wrong way with our e-mails. Honestly speaking, I’m not entirely sure on which side of the fence I’d like to be situated. Sadly the option of sitting on said fence would be a painful one as it’s pointy and rusty with a likelihood of contracting septicemia.
Ah feck it. I’m going to nail my colours to the mast. I genuinely believe we actually communicate more these days than we’ve ever done before. This is mainly due the means we have at our disposal in order to be able to contact each other: to send and receive instructions; to arrange gatherings or to simply have a good old bitch about him, her and the neighbour’s parakeet. Some methods are electronic, others software based. All are fairly modern and the scourge of the letter-writing mafia. I agree it’s nice to receive a letter from someone but it’s a pain in the backside writing one when one has a Blackberry instead. Mind you, I am slightly saddened that the art of crafting a letter has died, mainly as it’s impacted on the quality of our e-mails as well. We’re losing the ability to remember where to insert a full stop instead of a comma. I’ve read opinions on numerous public forums where even commas were conspicuous by their absence. Comma Comma Comma Comma Comma Chameleon you might say. However, the quality of internet commentary from Joe Public is a topic for another time.
What inspired today’s choice of topic I ask myself, especially as it’s one which has more questions than answers. Robert was sitting on my lap the other day soon after finishing having his beak stuffed with powdered watery milk. As happy as a pig in the proverbial, he started his usual gabbling, using a plethora of squeaks, squawks, goos and gaas. Naturally I return the compliments using an adult interpretation of baby chat, with the odd raspberry thrown in. Hey, anything for a smile. Beats having a gowling Wurlitzer on yer knee any day. It occurred to me that this was verbal communication in its’ purest form. Okay, neither of us had a baldy what the feck we were saying but there was a mutual understanding that we were enjoying ourselves and as such we would continue blathering away to each other. The wee fella has had a cold these last few days and I fear he thinks he’s Welsh. That’s not a huge problem per se but I’m buggered if I’m going to help him with his spellings when he grows up.
The important thing about verbal communication is that once we’re finished relaying information, we can understand each other. Since I left high school my whole life has been about communicating with people. Yet, unlike yabbering away with Robert and Eloise before him, there have been many times when I’ve mentally held my head on my hands, wondering what the bloomin’ heck has just happened. For almost eight years, I was an employee of the Prudential, explaining to people as nicely as possible that they may have been mis-sold their endowment policy. The call centre I worked in naturally covered the whole of the UK and all its regional dialects. Source of the problem number one. I’ll freely admit to failing a few times in fathoming what a Geordie might have been telling me. Mind you, I’ve heard my own brogue played back on tape, and I can sympathise with anyone who I’ve spoken to in the past. A face for radio maybe, unfortunately not the voice. Yes, yes. I know that ultimately we ended up singing off the same hymn sheet but the journey was often fraught with tension and mistrust, mainly on the customer’s part. Apparently having an Irish accent meant I was going to either sell their policy details to the Russians or tarmac their driveways.
In spite of this, I have a profound admiration for those who work in call centres as it’s the most thankless task in this day and age. Long ago, if you worked in customer service it was face to face or via the mail. Nowadays, thanks to modern technology, it’s right here, right now or I’ll ask to speak to your manager. A no win situation. Damned if you do and action-planned if you don’t. Funnily enough, my approach 99% of the time was to whisht them with politeness. It’s a great weapon these days to be polite to someone. It can totally diffuse a potential argument at the drop of a hat. Even better, it can disarm an obnoxious buffoon, the type who believes that if you swear and shout loudly enough, someone would gladly bend over to help them. Sad really. The telephone is a wonderful tool to help people with their lives and yet many have no clue how to use it properly. It’s more than pushing a few buttons folks.
The problem isn’t the methods of communication at our disposal nowadays, it’s the language we use. Jargon is the curse of human kind. Performance Management is a good example, a euphemism for berating, motivating, psychologically manipulating, threatening, and then firing someone. In even simpler terms, buck up or yer out. Apparently it’s acceptable human nature to confuse each other with big words, terms and conditions. Is it so hard to simplify things? I’m not advocating we all speak in text lingo. We may as well have lobotomies if we go down that road. That form of language is not required to bring our communications to a more eloquent yet comprehensible level. As I write this I feel I’m opening a few cans of worms above and beyond what I had initially anticipated. Consequently I’m going to leave them for another day, to be addressed when my brain can make sense of it all.
I blame the baby talk.

February 17, 2010 Posted by | Bringing Up Baby, Communicating | , | 2 Comments