Friday, 29 January 2016

A mistake squared, or how getting it wrong about getting it right, gets everything wrong

Isn’t it curious, how an intelligent decision can flip so easily into its opposite and give way to utter dumbness?

In the office, my work laptop links to a docking station, which keeps it fully charged. So I don’t need a charger. Which means I don’t take it with me, and I’m pleased, because I carry the lot on my back: my work computer, my own computer (in case I want to write anything on the way in or on the way back), the charger for my computer (in case I run out of charge), two phones but only one charger (because they can both use the same one, and I’ve trained them to behave better than teenagers and take turns), my lunch, my notebook (A4 size – a bit bigger than letter size, since you ask in the US – and hard backed because that’s the only kind that stands that kind of battering), plus all the various plug adapters and multiple other things which just seem to accumulate in my rucksack and I never seem to remember to take out when I get home (cf women’s handbags).

Because I decided to leave the charger at home, I chose to put it in an intelligent place. The drawer where I keep lots of useful cables and computer-y things which I need from time to time. It’s getting pretty full these days, with the things I actually use near the top, and the bottom rather like the deeper recesses of my rucksack or a woman’s handbag. It seemed the logical place to put the charger, because that’s where it obviously belonged.

So it was distinctly upsetting when, having decided to work from home, I looked for it and couldn’t find it.

“Blast,” I thought, “I could have sworn I left it there. I know I decided to. Where else could I have put it?”

I spent the next twenty minutes checking all the bookshelves, the other drawers, under the coffee table, and in all the helpful little boxes and chests we have which are just so useful to keep things you might need to find some day. When none of those revealed my charger, I tried upstairs in my bedroom (why would I have taken it there? No matter. I had to check. I have a bedside table and it has drawers) and the front bedroom that doubles as an office.

No joy.

So I phoned my wife. Naturally, I didn’t say what I was really thinking, which would have been, “you’ve tidied away my computer charger. Where did you put it?” No. I was much more tactful. “You haven’t seen it, by any chance?” – that kind of thing. Nothing accusatory (to her) or exculpatory (of me).

It turned out to be an inspired phone call. “I don’t know where the charger from the new machine is, but the one from your old machine is upstairs.”

“That won’t work…”

“It worked on my laptop, when I needed a charger, and your machine is basically identical to mine, isn’t it?”

Well, that was all true. I went and got the old charger, with its transformer the size and weight of a brick – the new one is not much larger than a mobile phone and considerably lighter – and tried it on my machine. It worked a dream.

A few hours later, however, frustrated by my failure to find the new charger, I decided to look again. Starting with the drawer where I should, if I were being sensible, have put it.

hands-freeAnd there it was. Where it had been all the time. I hadn’t spotted it because I’d forgotten what it looked like. When Id looked at it, Id assumed it was the device for taking hands-free calls in the car, which looks similar (I wonder where I put that, by the way?) I didn’t recognise it for what it really was, what I really wanted, my work computer charger.

There it was. In the incredibly well-oganised drawer,
where I keep electronic things so I can find them in a hurry
Now my wife, faced with my inability to find something I’m actually looking at, would simply attribute it to testosterone blindness. She may be right. But I think a more fundamental point is being illustrated here.

I’d done the right thing. Acted in an organised and intelligent way. And then behaved with ludicrous stupidity, turning a state of affairs that displayed commendable effectiveness (if I say so myself) into a textbook case of lamentable inefficiency (to which I have to confess).

Or putting it another way, I was mistaken to think I’d been mistaken, which was a pretty exasperating mistake.

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