Wimbledon and the e-mail: a perfect match
Wimbledon, upon us again next week, never fails to remind me of one of my favourite clients who has a fanatical enthusiasm for sport.
Assuming one year that he would be glued to his television for the tennis finals, I was surprised to learn that he would be gardening: he apparently preferred to record the match, not for convenience, but because he simply couldn't bear the tension of the live event.
Only when he had first heard the result would he enjoy the spectacle on his video, completely unperturbed by the eventual - or should I say already settled - outcome.
This ability to distort the passage of time for convenience - that is to establish the end before the beginning - was, of course, impossible before the introduction of recorded sound and vision, the forerunners of today's communication technologies which have had such profound impact on our lives.
Cedric Price was among the first to anticipate the influence that these developments would have on architecture through the distortion of 'time, interval and distance'. For example, city banks now decentralise their administrative functions to provincial towns; western corporations harness cheap labour on the other side of the world to manage their pay-rolls; and designers 'download' working drawings produced overnight in cheaper time zones.
The conventional geographical constraints of space have, in each case, been totally undermined by new technologies which offer us hitherto unimagined potential for economy and speed in communication.
We can now watch Schumacher competing with Haakinen in the Australian Grand Prix, courtesy of the video-recorder, on Sunday morning rather than in the early hours. We can 'fast forward' to see the end of the race before the start, or suspend the event while we walk the dog, 'freezing' for our convenience the very time that drivers have been trading in micro- seconds.
We can tele-conference rather than assemble participants in one place. New 'studio' chairs even provide 'gloves' that simulate a warm and firm 'hand-shake' for delegates divided by physical distance!
All this saves time and money which brings me to the issue of e-mail and the RIBA, a subject which has led to early disagreement between the director -general and incoming president, Marco Goldschmied.
Reid's position, which is supported by the RIBA's three main committees and by the response to a sample members' questionnaire, is clearly illustrated by the metaphorical language that he so loves to use: the future is high- tech: get your climbing boots on: we're going to the top! All offices must be e-mail equipped - easy, immediate, networked communication is essential. No
e-mail, no entry in the register of practices . . .
But Goldschmied doesn't accept Reid's rationalist position, preferring encouragement to obligation, and evolution to revolution. Alex is, of course, ambitious and understandably impatient, but we should realise the enormous debt we owe him and his team for developing the highly sophisticated communications operation at Portland Place which offers us both economy and efficiency.
Objections to Reid's proposals are surely Luddite - why should we pay some £10,000 in postal costs, to say nothing of administrative costs, to circulate one letter to the membership when it can be done for mere pennies by
e-mail? - it's like insisting on a 'runner' in lieu of the postal service. We should, of course, extend the RIBA's use of e-mail enthusiastically. Hopefully Marco and Alex will work out how this can be done as soon as possible, but without disadvantaging that worthy band of (usually) older practitioners which doesn't or won't operate e-mail.
All of which brings me full circle to my client and his use of video to control tension in sport: new technologies should ease the pressures of the work place, not intensify them. My plea is therefore for a greater discipline in the use of this facility. Indeed, I download my e-mail only once every 24 hours for I need periods of quality uninterrupted time to progress my work.