CAMPAIGN INTERACTIVE: NEW-MEDIA CLINIC - How comforting it is to know the F0 still lives in pre-web dark ages

Feeling like a technological dinosaur? Bemused by the young whippersnappers in your office with their impenetrable talk of ’power users’ and ’power losers’? Need a bit of cheering up? Well, on the basis that there’s nothing more reassuring when you’re feeling ignorant than to find someone with even less of a clue than you, let me point you in the direction of the Foreign Office.

Feeling like a technological dinosaur? Bemused by the young

whippersnappers in your office with their impenetrable talk of ’power

users’ and ’power losers’? Need a bit of cheering up? Well, on the basis

that there’s nothing more reassuring when you’re feeling ignorant than

to find someone with even less of a clue than you, let me point you in

the direction of the Foreign Office.



I’m prepared to bet that, although you might not know much about

computers, you can’t possibly know less than Britain’s diplomats. Let’s

face it, the rest of us have at least heard of something called the

internet and are aware that, for the techno-literate out there,

communicating with distant continents is about as tricky as dialling a

pizza. Deep down we even envy these spotty nerds and aspire to share

their powers.



But the stuffed shirts at the FO have no such inclinations. In the

penultimate year of the 20th century, they are still happy to keep in

touch with their ambassadors around the world by telegram.



Of course, there must have been a time when to get word from Buenos

Aires to London in 24 hours was nothing short of a miracle. Whitehall

was no doubt one of the first places to learn of the assassination of

the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, thanks to a telegram from

the local British ambassador. But, for a long time now, diplomats must

have got used to opening telegrams on a Tuesday morning informing them

of the events they witnessed along with the rest of the nation on

Monday’s News at Ten.



Despite their obvious limitations, 2.3 million telegrams changed hands

within the FO last year. Now, thanks to the intervention of our

hip-to-trip Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, they are to be replaced by

something he has very sweetly labelled ’e-grams’ (that’s e-mail to you

and me).



Mr Cook reckons the new system will give officials less excuse for

saying they haven’t seen important messages. Oh dear. Being part of New

Labour, he’s obviously so emersed in the white heat of new technology,

he’s forgotten what the average 35-plus-year-old looks like when

presented with a new application for their computer. When the person in

question still thinks telegrams are an efficient means of communication,

the mind boggles as to the confused state that will be visited upon

them.



In truth, what the FO’s fogeys are now facing is the same potential

tragedy as you are - if, like me, you never saw a computer until you

left school, where you used logarithm tables because your teachers

mistrusted calculators. This is the pre-net generation, for whom

qualifications are meaningless unless new skills can be learnt. And it’s

about time the pre-nets at the FO understood that, for them too, the

time has come to sink or swim.



The stuffed shirts at the FO are still happy to keep in touch with their

foreign ambassadors by telegram.



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