I remember the first time I met Phil.
I’d just finished up a document when an e-mail flashed up inviting me to room 0. Do Not Disturb was on the door and below it the letters M.O.I.. Phil opened the door as I approached. “Sorry I couldn’t catch up before. Busy. Efficiency Course. Come in.”
“M.O.I.?” I inquired.
“Manager of Interruptions.”
I’d never heard of that post before. I took in the impressive office at a glance. Metal blinds shut, white walls, diffuse lighting, swivel chair, desk facing wall-sized IPDU with multiple task tiles constantly blinking, telephone. The central tile was black except for an orange light that winked steadily on and off. A digital clock prominent on the opposite wall told the time everywhere in sequence. Phil moved like a pinball. I wasn’t going to be invited to sit for sure. A coffee was out of the question.
Phil perched on the edge of his desk. “So how are you settling in? Good? Good.”
I was about to ask what exactly it was he did but he was an uninterruptible stream of info.
“Hope you didn’t mind the interruption, Charles. My VFV told me you were available now.”
“VastlyFastaVista,” he indicated the new generation monster screen. “Electronic PA? We monitor and assist with interruptions. It focuses the workforce.”
I thought Phil was an odd person to be studying focus. His body language was that of a disruptive teenager.
“There’s a policy doc.,” he said, “programmed to pop up when you’ve ten minutes. The A.I. unit will study your behaviour and decide when is goo..”
Phil’s constant partial attention snapped-to in response to a minute change on the PDU, “…d for you.”
He pressed a tile lower left of the screen and it blinked out, then lifted the telephone in response to another signal, shut me off with a raised palm and dialed an extension. “You requested an interruption, Sir.” He replaced the receiver. “The old fashioned way,” he grinned. “I prefer more high tech methods. He’s watching us now in fact.”
“VFV — the A.I. unit,” Phil tapped the orange eye. “We’re not machines, of course, and we need a break now and then.”
I couldn’t imagine Phil at rest.
My attention wandered as he outlined some of the scheduled interruptions on offer: one chess move per day, at-desk yoga, on-line fiction, various inspirational e-mails and musical interludes…
“VFV monitors Bio-Breaks, but there’s a trolley system you can request — saves leaving the office — getting tied up — and the coffee is awful so you’re not tempted to linger over it,” he said proudly. “This is an e-filter.” He tapped a tile. “I can hold all but the most important e-mails in a pool for you and deliver them — whenever. You set the priorities and time. And if you are being constantly interrupted by another staff member, VFV is linked to CCTV too.” He barely drew breath. “Did you know that after an interruption of just a few seconds, it takes 25 minutes to get back on task?”
I was about to say that I didn’t but VFV interrupted.
“This meeting is due to conclude now,” said a cold voice.
Today I remembered that first time I met Phil. There weren’t many mourners. He had no wife. No family. I expect he would have regarded them as an interruption. I don’t know why I was selected to attend the funeral. VFV must have informed somebody I was free. It gave us quite a turn — a phone ringing underground like that.
“He requested to be buried with his phone switched on,” explained the undertaker. “Had it fitted with a nuclear power-cell so the battery never fails.”
The headstone read, ‘Do Not Disturb’, and the VFV was programmed to interrupt him at least once a day.
Now that’s what I call focus.
Oonah V Joslin lives in Northumberland, England. Winner of Micro Horror Prizes 2007 and 2008. Most read in EDF, Jan 2008. Guest judge in the Shine Journal 2008 Poetry Competition. Bewildering Stories Quarterly 4 2007 and 1 and 2 in 2008. She has had work published in Bewildering Stories, Twisted Tongue, Static Movement, 13 Human Souls, Back Hand Stories and The Pygmygiant, Lit Bits, The Linnet’s Wings, The Ranfurly Review and Boston Literary Magazine. The list is growing every month which pleases her immensely! Oonah is also Managing Editor of Every Day Poets. You can link to work, follow up-dates and contact Oonah at http://www.writewords.org.uk/oonah/ or http://www.oonahs.blogspot.com. She thanks all of you who take the time to read and comment.