The Temp

Trish bought a modem to go with her new laptop: pounds 180-worth of grey plastic, flashing lights and bits of wire. And that was where all the problems began...
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I have always wondered what the letters IT actually stood for. Information Technology is just camouflage, isn't it? Those innocent-looking letters must stand for something darker: International Terrorists, Instant Tearfulness, Impending Tragedy, Invisible Talents, It's done by Telepathy, Incomprehensible Thought-processes, Immeasurable Torture. Everyone has their own personal theory as to what IT stands for.

My own money is on I'll come Tuesday, which is what temporary workers hear all the time. One of the stressful things about Monday mornings is the old "on switch" question. It's odd, but however much you know about a computer system, the one thing you will never know is how to get it up and running in the first place. Find exactly the same make and model of hardware as the one you were using the previous week, and there will be one inexplicable difference: the on switch will have disappeared. And if you find the on switch, you will inevitably find that you can only boot up as far as the words ENTER PASSWORD, a piece of information your predecessor will have neglected to leave you.

Which is the point at which you get involved, or try to, with IT. After the switchboard has expressed surprise that the company has such a department, and put you through to personnel, you will eventually know you've got the right place because the phone will ring a minimum of 20 times before it is picked up with a bored "hello". I gather that the old-style print unions were much the same in their approach: this doesn't surprise me, as most of the redundant print workers who didn't become taxi drivers in the Eighties retrained as the first tranche of IT people.

And that's the easy part. After you have explained your problem, you have to talk your ways past the following three phrases: a) "That's a hardwear problem. You'll have to call the engineers"; b) "You say you're not an employee? Sorry, but I'm only supposed to do company stuff"; and c) "We're a bit busy at the moment. We'll send someone down as soon as they've got a minute. Probably next week sometime".

IT stress in the office often means stress at home: my flatmate Trish has been hell to live with since she bought her laptop. Door-slamming, weeping fits, bursts of irrational shouting: we've had the lot. We blame her IT department. She bought a modem to go with the laptop, you see: pounds 180-worth of grey plastic, flashing lights and bits of wire. And that was where the problems began. She plugged it into the comm port at the back of the computer, and whenever she tried to initialise, got the following message: "Comm port not recognised." So she thought: "OK, well, there are all those guys on 80 grand a year upstairs at work, I'll ask them."

She gets in, manages to get an appointment, carts the stuff upstairs and meets a boy of about 17 with enough hair gel to shore up the Aswan dam. She tells him the problem, puts the machinery in front of him. He sucks air in through his teeth. "Well, there you are," he says. "What?" she asks. "You've got an IBM". "Mmm," she says. "Well," he says, "if you'd asked me first I would have told you to buy a Mac. This will never work." "Surely," she says, "IBMs work modems too. I've loaded the software." "Tss" he says, "Nothing I can do, really. Modem's probably not compatible." "But it says it's not recognising the comm port." "Ah," he says archly. "That's the thing. Just because it says something doesn't mean that that's the problem. I'd just take it back to the shop and start again if I were you."

Trish goes away, snivels, crashes things around on her desk, shouts at her flatmates. And here's the moral of the story: on Saturday, she goes to John Lewis for a refund. Man on till asks what the problem is. "My IT department say the computer and the modem aren't compatible." "And what's it doing, exactly?" "It says `comm port not recognised' when I try to initialise," she replies. "Ah," he says. "That's IT departments for you. Did anybody suggest you switch the comm port on?"n