Curtains

Stories of struggles to make technology work are unending.  As long as there are technological developments, whether a book, an overhead projector, video conferencing or buildings equipped with complex automated systems which call for re-humanizing architecture, such stories will continue while the actor playing the role of the technology changes. Picking up on Adrian Leaman‘s earlier blog on the five most important things to think about in architectural briefing, Sam Cassels illustrates the plight of the nervous presenter confronted with an overhead projector.

Illustration by Felix Saw

Eventually, from behind the rustling stage curtains a bewildered head appeared at floor level.  Like a convict emerging from the wrong tunnel.  The small figure extracted himself on all fours from the clutches of the heavy drapes and then quickly leapt to his feet, and smiled at the invited audience as if he had just sauntered on after the now distant introduction.

To his left the esteemed panel behind their long cloth-covered table remained expressionless.  To his right, the stage exit  –  and for a moment he looked like he might consider that as an option.  But half way down the table was an empty chair, and on the table in front of it a waiting overhead projector.  He held the folder of transparencies tight to his chest and looked up at the threat of the large white screen.  Then he began to glacially move sideways one step at a time towards his appointed place, in a doomed manoeuvre to escape the audience’s notice.  The audience watched, transfixed.

He stood at his appointed place behind the table and laid down the transparencies within easy reach, retrieved a folded speech from his inside pocket with some difficulty, and gathered himself for his presentation.  In front of him the overhead projector waited – a legacy of a simpler technology.

He switched it on, placed his first transparency on the lightbox, and began.  Behind him a blank screen.  Hesitantly, he talked for a couple of minutes then he looked around to refer to the screen.  Blank.  With his back to the audience he stared at it for a moment as if waiting for something to happen.  The he turned sharply and confronted the projector, the bright light shone strong through the transparency.  He stared for a moment, and then turned quickly as if to catch out the screen, and then back again, just as quickly, to the projector – trying to surprise both accomplices in the act.  Blank.

He did this several times.  He turned it off and on.  He changed transparencies. Eventually, he just stood facing the screen defeated, his hands on his hips, daring the blank screen to come to life.  And as he stood there between the projector and the screen, the invited audience watched the image once again appear on his back.

At last he shook his head and took a step sideways.  And the screen was immediately flooded with light.  He jumped, startled.  And, as he turned, an expression of comprehension crossed his face, he stood a bit taller, and he resumed his talk.  The master of the overhead projector.

Until.  Until he projected an annotated statistical graph on the massive screen. Someone had provided him with a laser pointer.  He turned it on, almost blinding a couple of the esteemed panel in the process, and pointed it confidently at the screen to illustrate the points he wanted to make.

The audience seemed to lean forward, just a little, to make out the highlighted detail on the screen.  However, this was well-nigh impossible for two reasons.  Firstly, the geometry of the situation meant that a very small movement of the hand produced a massive movement on the faraway screen.  And secondly, his hand was by now shaking, and the laser pointer described sweeping arcs across the statistical graph as he attempted to draw attention to a single small font number.  By now, he was resigned at technology’s cruelty.  He persevered – a small figure pressing on with what fate had dealt him. 

The invited audience leaned back, just a little, and waited for it to be over.  

Eventually, there was applause.  The small figure nodded, smiled, stood away from the instruments of torture, and left the stage, forgetting his transparencies, and his speech, and his laser pointer, but with his Chaplinesque dignity somehow intact. 

The esteemed panel moved on to the next item.

Medieval helpdesk support, NRK. 2001.

Sam Cassels is a strategic designer and facilitator with a focus on collaborative storytelling and place-making –  helping people to make well informed decisions about shaping the future. He is currently the Place Principle Adviser to the Scottish Government.

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