Progress comes at a price

E-mail is not working. E-mail hasn’t worked for several hours. E-mail goes down and so does the mood. E-mail goes down and we all go to some very strange places. It’s not pretty to watch.

It’s toughest on the young ones. One small editorial team has formed a human pyramid, which can almost touch our exposed-aluminium air-con pipes. A ragged cheer breaks out from the sales department as it collapses.

One of the blokes in the IS department has been stripped, tarred, feathered and hung up by his heels in the main conference room – as a warning to others, I suppose. I wrinkle my nose at the smell of damp flesh. Luckily he’s been gagged properly, and he’s no longer making much noise. Probably having trouble breathing.

Over by the accounts department, two guys dressed in life-size bear costumes are trying to recreate the mood of the John West Salmon commercial as a piece of performance art.

A couple of reporters are speeding around the perimeter of our open-plan office on some endless, indoor scooter race. They screech to a halt in front of me, their tongues hanging out, breathless. I take my umbrella from the coat-stand, just in case they turn feral, and smile nervously.

“Tell us again, Michael!” one of them exhorts me. “Tell us about life before e-mail!”

I lean back against someone’s desk, keeping an eye on their hands. “Everything was different back then. People used to write documents by hand, or call each other up on the telephone. No, I’m serious. This was before voice mail, so if you weren’t there, someone would have to take a message. When you got back from lunch, there would often be lots of different pieces of paper on your desk, covered with hand-written messages.”

They look at me blankly, and one of them finally asks, embarrassed: “What’s lunch?”

“Lunch used to be the most important meal of the day. Lunch used to start around one o’clock, and would venture deep into the afternoon. There were three courses: prawn cocktail, chickenorbeef, and I forget the other one. Cr