This story by Rajaratarala as well as a question A asked me last week reminded me of one of my bones of contention. The question, unlike the answer, was a simple one.
"What do you think of technology Dad?"
My answer was one of those rambling Dad when we have to think and speak at the same time whilst trying to sound knowledgeable and wise ones. The ramble consisted of miscellaneous nuggets about positives and negatives, social networking versus family values and other stuff that people like Dinidu and The Auf are quite comfortable discussing but is way above my head.
My own Dad, before he retired, was a service engineer. He was one of those old fashioned types who went around to the customers of his firm and fixed things. That's generally what used to happen.
Engineers had a sort of inquisitive, nay creative mind. They investigated a fault or problem and figured out the solution. If that solution involved bending a piece of metal in a Heath Robinson fashion and then adapting a spare coat hanger to attach a widget to the flux capacitor then that's what they did. And in those days a widget was something tangible that had three dimensions and hurt you if it fell on your head, not a fancy thing that you can add to your blog to see what colour pants your readers are wearing.
These days, and I know I run the risk of sounding like an old bastard here, engineers have mostly become fitters, hardly evolution I reckon. I blame technology though, as I discovered in my answer to A's question, I'm mostly in favour of technology.
I frequently observe "engineers", a title so spurious these days that is has to be placed within speech marks, when we have to call them out at work for any number of computer or office machinery type problems. They turn up, ask what the problem is and then sniff around the appropriate bit of machinery and do everything that we've already done before we decided to call out the maintenance people.
Then they call their office and ask Dan the controller if he knows anything about that model. Dan tells them to check something. They check the something, figure out that it's broken, order a part from a massive warehouse somewhere near Swindon and return a few days later to fit it. There's minimal skill involved, perhaps the ability to use satnav, a mobile phone and some very basic training on how to open up office machinery and of course how to ask where the toilet is on the way out are the only requirements.
My car is a fairly decent BMW but technology and the demise of the mechanic is helping BMW, not me. Whenever there's a problem I take it to my dealer. Of course it's more or less impossible for me to take it to an independent mechanic as they face the prospect of the death penalty for even looking at a BMW and two death penalties for working on one.
One of the idiots at the dealer plugs a big computer into my car and downloads the information to tell him which part has to be replaced. It's done by another idiot, one who'd probably struggle to change a plug, and I end up paying a small fortune for it. Thinking is not on the agenda. All of that assumes the big computer is working. If it isn't then they have to call out an "engineer". Pah, I say. Sometimes what goes around comes around.
I dread to think what would happen if the computer "engineer" drives a BMW that has broken down. It could all get very messy, like one of the more advanced plots in Walker Texas Ranger.
Our forklift broke down at work some weeks ago. I called up the forklift company and they promptly dispatched an "engineer". Several months later he arrived, made some tutting noises and told us that we needed a new part. If I remember rightly the part was going to cost fourteen million pounds and a bit more for fitting it. I had no choice but to go with the suggestion.
Some days later a different engineer arrived but the part hadn't come yet. My lack of inverted commas there was entirely deliberate. He was an older gent, if it was in Sri Lanka I'd have been tempted to call him Uncle, and he was called Ron. Now I know in Serendib you don't have blokes called Ron, the closest you have is dodgy fellows closely linked with dodgier land deals and ex presidents and they're called Ronnie.
Here in England a chap called Ron is guaranteed to be honest and reliable. You could go up to a stranger, one with a "My name is Ron" T shirt, in the street and ask him to look after your life savings for a short while. He'd readily agree and he'd be there waiting for you when you came back. He'd probably have polished your coins for you while you were gone. That's what Rons are like.
This Ron took a look at the forklift and told me that the part didn't need replacing, that he could fix the old one and the other "engineer" was just being lazy. Ron then spent about three hours bending, banging and twisting all sorts of things to make the part work again. He succeeded, he went and didn't ask where the toilet was on his way out. As he left I watched him with that feeling that wildlife fellows must have as they watch one of the last examples of a species stroll off into the jungle.
What's next though?
How long will it be before Doctors stop treating things because it's too expensive and they just replace parts? Will I go to my Doctor with a pain in my arm and be told that I need a new arm? Will my Doctor ring up an expert and ask if he knows anything about arms? Will my Doctor become a "Doctor"?
Bring back the real mechanics and the real engineers.
We want Rons.