Nepali Times
Imagine no computer


He will probably be called backward and undoubtedly labelled a Luddite, but Mitsuyasu Ota, the mayor of Hirata in Japan, doesn\'t care. In a bold and highly unpopular move, the boss of the town\'s municipal offices has just imposed a one-day-a-week ban on the use of computer equipment at work.

In our hi-tech modern world, such a step seems like self-inflicted torture. To most of us, wiping out computer use at work would be inconceivable to the smooth running of the office. But perhaps Ota is right. Perhaps our computer-heavy culture actually does do more harm to our work than good. After asking a handful of people to jot down a daily computer diary at work, it is tempting to side with Ota. A database software tester who spends most of his days glued to a screen relays part of his day:

9am-Ease into the day with a strong coffee before booting up and checking emails in anticipation of some funny forwards to amuse me through my first half hour.

9:30am-Headphones go on. MP3 server is activated so I can listen to music while working at pace through a report document in Word.

11.30am-Casual surf of the internet to find details of last-minute bargain flights for my summer hols.

2.30pm-Email attachments from friends start arriving. I have my work cut out playing with them and ensuring they are forwarded to appropriate parties. Gems include a "How naughty are you in bed?" quiz, the obligatory David Beckham joke and a string of cartoons about different nationalities\' willies.

And so on. This wasn\'t how it was supposed to be. When computers were introduced into our working lives, they were seen as the key to a hyper-productive workplace. But the promised benefits of increased IT investment have failed to materialise. Theories abound as to why what economists call the "productivity paradox" exists, but most users will admit that alongside computational privileges come distractions. Perhaps the endless technical problems or sheer irritation of being stuck in front of a monitor all day begin to take their toll.

These days, many computer games come equipped with a "boss screen" that pops up to deter probing eyes. Such in-built paranoia is there for a reason.
Accountants Accpac International estimate that American businesses lose around $100 billion per year to PC gaming.

Likewise, electronic mail has proved a mixed blessing in the workplace. As well as the time-consuming replies to friends and colleagues, experts admit that email exchanges at work are rarely as productive as face-to-face conversations.

Interacting via computer involves a completely different set of social rules since people are more blunt and honest when they are not talking face-to-face. On the plus side, it can flatten the hierarchy and improve communication between different levels in an organisation. But there is evidence that people don\'t engage properly because computers take away a lot of the characteristics you need for a job to be satisfying.

This feeling can bring problems of its own. Cliff Saran, technical editor of Computer Weekly magazine, describes the experience of being busy doing nothing in front of his PC. "People tend to be very reactive when sitting in front of a computer, so it\'s easy to find yourself just staring at it waiting for something to happen," he says. "If you deal a lot with emails, you might be avidly awaiting one, but actually doing nothing but twiddling your thumbs until it arrives."

Robert Kling, professor of information science at Indiana University and author of Computerisation and Controversy, has been debating the productivity paradox for some time. "There has been a relentless promotion of computerisation as almost guaranteeing large productivity gains at work," he says, "but the economic evidence doesn\'t bear that out."

Kling adds. "Computer work can be very seductive, which isn\'t necessarily a good thing. It\'s become a substitute for more active work because people tend to think they can get a lot done online or with spreadsheets or formal typed reports. It has the allure of making work seem easy when it actually puts managers less in touch with the realities of their own workplaces."

His advice echoes Ota\'s unpopular course of action. "Turn computers off for a few hours and work in other ways."

India\'s internet market match makers

NEW DELHI - How does a Hindu living in Delhi find a bride belonging to Kurmi caste in the eastern state of Bihar whose surname or horoscope do not point to a common male ancestor?

At least educated and well-off Indian lonely hearts are now getting a helping hand from the Internet in finding a life partner. "There are so many parameters that it can take years to find a partner," says entrepreneur Rohit Tandon who runs the matchmaking website with his brother Amit.

The site is one of the many in cyberspace for fixing weddings in India. The others include and Indiantrack.corn.

Jeevansathi, which was founded six months ago, has registered 20,000 singles, two-thirds of whom are men. The website records 20,000 hits every day. "We have the cream of India," says Amit proudly of his website. Jeevansathi\'s service is free but there is a plan to charge a fee for displaying photographs or the automatic provision of information. The profits reportedly come from advertising.

"Marriages are made in heaven. Partners are found in Matrimonialonline" is the
claim of the website of the same name. Advertising to seek a bride or a groom is quite common. "In cities 90 per cent of the couples find each other through newspaper ads," says Rohit Tandon.

Matrimonial websites mirror a changing scenario. "In newspapers, 90 per cent of the ads are by the parents. At our site, 90 percent of the people advertise themselves," says Rohit Tandon.

And strangely for India with its caste and religious divides, one- fourth of the users of Jeevan Sathi are ready to marry a follower of a different religion. For about three-fourths of the customers caste does not matter.

The websites also offer information about party services, beauticians, photographers and marriage consultants and even private detectives to get the full background of the future in-laws.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)