The Temp: Trousers down, spirits up

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The Independent Culture
IT'S ALWAYS a relief when your screen is facing the wall, as then not only can no one sneak up from behind, slip a length of parcel tape round your neck and pull (which, believe me, in some of the offices I've worked in has felt like a distinct possibility), but you can use it for things other than work. So once I've gone through the priority report and laid it out tidily in its little boxes, and seen that, as everyone's just come back from lunch, the chances are that I'm not going to be doing any more drudge-slave copy typing for a bit, I slip on to the Internet, go into my pop provider and have a look to see who's sent me what.

One message, from Barney in the wilds of Leith, takes a full five minutes to download, while I look around hoping that no one will want to come and help themselves to stationery from my drawers (always a safer place to keep your pens than your desk). Finally the monitor goes bing and I can pull it up.

"Bet you wish you could do this..." says the subject box. I double-click, and the text box says "...or maybe you can!" There's an attachment. Click on it, take the "open now" option and one of those "I'm a tape recorder" boxes appears. Then, above it, a little video screen. It contains a girl on a bed, bottom waving proudly toward the camera. Her face has that blank, mask-like quality you tend to see in pornographic things, and I wonder if I like Barney after all. And suddenly, an arm appears from the left of the screen bearing a cigarette lighter, flicks it close to the girl's bottom and a sheet of flame roars out, lighting up the dreary hotel decor around her like Christmas. But it doesn't just pop out and stop: this chick must have eaten a couple of pounds of Jerusalem artichokes. Hands stuffed in my mouth and tears running down my cheeks, I shake with laughter as the second-counter ticks away and the flame-thrower effect carries on and on. It finally dies after a full 18 seconds: time enough, practically, to make a cup of coffee.

So obviously, I have to play it again. This is why, at the end of the day, I continue to have faith in the human race. Because despite the horrors around us, despite the way our betters try to make us take everything seriously, we have an innate capacity to subvert everything, however serious its original intention. I mean, do you think those Pentagon boffins sat around all those years ago and said to each other: "Hey guys, how about we get the government to give us billions of dollars to set up a worldwide web of interlinked computers so everyone can send each other pictures of people lighting their farts?"

But that's what we do. There is not piece of technology sophisticated enough, a work practice rigorous enough, a government draconian enough, to stop us. Take the photocopier. Invented to make carbon paper manufacturers redundant, and what do we use it for? Sitting on, or baring our breasts over at the Christmas party. Open plan offices were designed so supervisors could keep an eye on who was doing what. It took several years for the water bombs, paper aeroplanes and ink pellets to stop flying. Disabled loos? Perfect for conferencing, kipping, and the occasional quickie with a colleague (and don't think we don't know who you are). CCTV? I once worked for a week in the back room with the security guards in one of those hubris-ridden office blocks that cut out all the light in the medieval road patterns of the city. In that time, 16 - yes, really, 16 - people appeared suddenly on one or other of the screens that lined our windowless walls and executed a quick tap-dance. In another office, there was a prankster who regularly made use of the smoke alarms to take a quick coffee break.

And it won't ever stop. As technology advances, so will our sophistication in harnessing it for our entertainment. The possibilities of the flatbed scanner are endless; the joy of the computer warning noise has only just begun to be touched upon. And I can't wait until the dreaded video phone is finally up and running, and senior executives find themselves picking up in anticipation of worldwide pomposity to find a Balaclava'd employee has dropped their trousers for their delectation. Fight on, my proud people. As long as we have scatology, the human spirit will never die.