Work and school from home is a complete F**kApp!


Because I work in the media where there are no jobs, I have three. So, at the moment my home set-up, which I am sharing with my husband — and sometimes two boys —  is pretty special.

Our desks make a T-shirt shape. I have a Mac on the left arm of the T, which I brought home from the Mail & Guardian newsroom where I work on Wednesdays and Thursdays as a sub-editor. Down the midriff is my other work laptop, propped up by my personal laptop, which I take out occasionally for Indesign or admin. My husband and the printer are stationed on the right arm of the T.

The printer is not connected to any of my computers.

On the Mac, I have a VPN (virtual private network), which is supposed to allow me to work on InCopy, the newspaper’s editing programme. Unfortunately that set-up has not been going too well and I spent hours watching a rainbow-striped beach ball spin on my screen before I threw in the towel. Now I do everything in Google docs. Sometimes we have meetings there on Google Hangouts, but we also communicate through email and Slack.

My boss also calls me, which is a treat. A different human voice from the outside.

The Ctrl key on the keyboard doesn’t work as it does for Windows. Instead there is a special Apple command key just to the right of it. I often forget that and copy and paste absolutely nothing into my Google fact-check search.

My second job is writing for an international news agency. That laptop’s keyboard is German, so some of the keys are different, I couldn’t figure out how to get quote marks, so I attached my own wireless keyboard, which I use on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays when I work for the agency. 

In that job we use a content management system called Ines to work on stories, but we speak to editors and correspondents around the world using Slack. Mostly. We also use Ines  messages and emails.Then we chat to stringers in countries on the African continent using emails or WhatsApp. I also spend hours and hours trawling Twitter, news sites and other websites for news and stories, attend webinars and online press conferences and I am bombarded every few minutes by a supposedly helpful little app called Dataminr — it does the trawling for you and spews its messy catch into your Inbox.

I pretended not to hear when a colleague suggested we could Skype call.

My third job, which can be done from any computer and which is fortunately more ad hoc because it takes inordinate amounts of time for very little financial reward, is transcribing podcasts. That involves transcription software, listening to MP3s, transferring to Word documents and uploading and downloading from Microsoft OneDrive.

Needless to say, all this juggling conspires to drive one absolutely bat-shit crazy (sorry about that reference in these zoonotic times). Switching from one job to the other is, as you can probably imagine, not at all “seamless” as the tech gurus would have you believe.

I was handling this pretty well for a Boomer — as my children relish calling me, despite my explaining that I am Gen X — until the onslaught of homeschooling “solutions”. 

I have one child in grade 8 and one in grade 6 at public schools. Both schools use the D6 Communicator to post notices to parents in the usual running of things and now they are sending “work packs” too.

But the D6 is not really designed for downloading; its search function is dire and the schools have to cover all their bases, so soon we had emails and We Transfer links, Zoom invitations, Word documents, PDFs, PowerPoints and WhatsApps, just to make extra sure you’d got it all. Then along came Google Classrooms with its email alerts and “kindly” messages from teachers letting you know they were available. 

And all the while, know-it-all parents and friends were sending their suggestions for “support” platforms: there’s Siyavula, Vodacom e-School, Worksheet Cloud, E-Classroom, Coding for Kids, Africa Teen Geeks, SeeSaw, BromCom, EduCake and lastly, Purple Mash — which is probably more useful to me as a description for my mind.

On top of that I of course have Netflix, interesting newsletter subscriptions, Instagram, a bit of Facebook and mostly WhatsApp messaging with the occasional video call to keep me entertained and in touch, should I ever get a gap. 

Now, none of this would be that much of an issue if each platform or device spoke to the other nicely, but they don’t. Technology is marvellous — when it works.

Google documents go googly when you convert them to Word and then print with half the contents missing; Zoom meetings stutter and stall if the Wi-Fi dips; some documents take hours to upload or download. And for every goddamn one of these apps or programmes you have to have some login code or password or registration or sign up that you just know you’ll pay for in password rage or spam later.  

Oh, and did I mention that none of my computers are attached to the printer? I have to email all the downloaded stuff to my husband or go over to his side to print from his computer.

I’ve already had to experience a lot more learning curves in the past 10 years than I ever wanted to and I’m frankly a bit gatvol of personal development.

Plus, a huge pitfall is that I can never bloody remember on which platform I originally received the message, inspirational quote, recipe, form, important worksheet or memorandum. All of these so-called solutions are similar, but just different enough to completely mess with your head. 

None of these conveniences are as convenient as the trusty old notebook. Or a real, live teacher in a classroom.

It reminds me of a quote I read many, many years ago by British artist David Hockney: “The thing with high-tech,” he said, “is that you always end up using scissors.”

I want the scissors all right … preferably to stab or snip all the high-tech up into tiny pieces (especially the phones my children are increasingly attached to in the absence of school sports and extramural activities).

But, it’s my friend’s virtual baby shower coming up. One of the young women organising it said a Zoom link would be sent out. I sighed, but at least I knew what Zoom was.

I got a WhatsApp from her last week that read: “When would suit you to set up a team  meeting to check that all your tech works?”

I laughed at the ridiculous thought of splitting a baby shower up into teamwork and having meetings about it. A bit bossy and extreme, but hey she is a mining engineer and that is how they do things — I had seen the “Party Agenda” already.

I replied teasingly: “That is hilarious. I use Zoom for work, but anytime is good!”, feeling rather smug that I could say that with confidence.

Within seconds, she replied: “That is awesome, but we are going to use Teams because there are fees involved with Zoom if the number of participants is more than … how’s 14:00?”

Sucker punch.

“What the f*** is Teams?”

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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Leizl Eykelhof
Leizl Eykelhof is a subeditor at the Mail & Guardian

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