So, after endless months of possibly some of the most horrible medical treatments available to mankind, I am finally back at work!
And oh my, how things have changed. While I was on medical leave, my department, the School of Psychology, moved from Henry Wellcome Building into the fancy new Centre for Medicine! It’s a (for Leicester’s architectural standards) nice, modern, and apparently very environmentally sustainable building that doesn’t require much energy for heating or cooling.
Now, I’m quite happy with this building. I have a lovely, shiny new office with windows! Yes, windows! I never had these in my old office, and now we have two walls that are pretty much just windows. Nice wide open space, a wonderful view of Victoria Park (which is especially gorgeous when autumn starts painting the leaves). We also have really cool lab spaces.
However, modernity has its drawbacks… one of which is the automatisation of processes. You see, because the new building is so incredibly advanced and environmentally sustainable, you cannot trust mere people to control the lights, blinds, and heating/air conditioning. People are prone to focus on their own needs rather than those of the building as a whole. Therefore, logically, the building is in charge of the lights, blinds, and heating.
And as any avid science fiction fan can imagine, this has…. interesting consequences
- The lights (in my office) are controlled by the building. The building grants us light depending on how much movement it perceives. Now, since PhD students in an office tend to spend the majority of their time typing, the lights tend to switch off every few minutes. They will only switch on again if the building detects sufficient motion. Meaning every few minutes, someone in the office has to either wave (if they’re lucky like me), or stand up and effectively dance until the motion detector acknowledges their existence. This external validation of ones existence can, of course, lead to all kinds of metaphysical crises in the already fragile mind of your average PhD student. Also, it’s really annoying and distracting.
- The blinds (in my office) are controlled by the building. I’m not sure what mysterious sensors or complex rules are used by the building to determine the need for blinds, and I highly doubt that I will ever unravel this enigmatic secret, as the usage pattern of the blinds can only be described as … erratic. I’ve experienced days of perfectly clear skies and sunshine (yes, in England, I promise), with the blinds incessantly moving up and down for hours on end. Furthermore, as you can see from the pictures above, the blinds are not lowered in a way that could be described as potentially helpful. My desk is right next to a window, and on days when the sun shines through that window, bouncing off my monitor and blinding me, the building lowers every blind in the room… apart from the one next to me. I guess I shall have to bring sunglasses to work with me. But if I wear sunglasses during the day to work, will I have to change my wardrobe to look like the people in The Matrix?
- As a psychologist, and working in the School of Psychology, what amazes me the most is the extent to which my colleagues have already been conditioned by the building. I’ve only recently started returning to work: I can’t help but laugh out loud when the blinds start going up and down like a yo-yo. Yet my colleagues look at me, not the blinds. When the lights go off, my colleagues are completely unfazed, merely pause their writing for the few seconds it takes for the room to register their gymnastic activities. Then they get back to work, as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile I break into incredulous giggles. Everyone looks at me again.
These experiences made me think about how bizarre it is that we develop tools and technology with the aim of making our lives easier, imagining that they will assist and serves us… yet we end up adapting our own behaviour to best suit the technology, rather than the other way round. This is actually something Francisco and I have been hearing from fingerprint examiners; that the quality of a fingerprint is determined by how well a computer can examine the print, rather than the humans who have to make the call in the end. So it appears that the principles of our work are prevalent in the world around us – and our work has a place not just in forensics, but also other areas.
In the meantime, I shall follow the advice of HAL-9000, the building’s potential predecessor: “I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.“