By Tim Hayes []

Ever find yourself gulping for breath, adrenaline pounding, shaking from head to toe, and covered in Kellogg’s Raisin Bran?

No?  Well, I have.  Here’s how.

Having been named news editor of my college newspaper, I was returning to campus a week earlier than most students following the Christmas break to start production on the semester’s first issue.  Behind the wheel of my first car, a beloved orange Volkswagen Super Beetle, I traversed the winding, two-lane, snowy and slushy blacktop roads of western Pennsylvania, radio blasting, mind drifting, car packed floor to ceiling with clean laundry, books, and a week’s worth of provisions.

To this day, I’m not sure if my back tire blew out before I hit the patch of ice, or if I hit the ice before the tire expired.  Didn’t really matter.  However it happened, suddenly the VW was no longer mine to control.  I crossed the road, banged off a guardrail, shot back to the correct side of the road but spinning in a circle, finally rolling up onto a dirt slope where the car came to a rocky yet welcome stop.

Thank goodness no one was coming the other way, or you might not be reading this blog today.  The aforementioned box of bran – among other things – went airborne during the 10-seconds of disorientation and exploded against the front windshield, splashing its raisiny goodness all over my dazed self.  But the best part?

Blasting from the radio: “I Will Survive,” by Gloria Gaynor.  As God is my witness.

Many years later, while working for a big corporation and getting set up for a major employee event in a local hotel ballroom, equipment failures came one after the next.  We were on the edge of panic, anticipating the wrath of the top executives that evening, if things couldn’t be corrected in time, when the head of the video production company came over to me and said four words that have calmed my nerves ever since.

“Technology has no conscience.”  How true.  Equipment (including really cool orange VWs) will blow out, give up, do things you never saw it do before – and all at the worst possible moment.  As communications professionals, we need to know and accept this, and have plans in place to handle it.

Of course, it helps if the client can roll with the punches, too.

For example, I had written a speech and coordinated production of supporting slides (yes, actual slides, in the prehistoric days before PowerPoint) for the chief operating officer of an electric utility for use at the company’s annual meeting of shareholders.  He gave quick rundowns of the year’s performance at the various power plants, but we wanted to save the big finish for a discussion of the utility’s nuclear plant – its pride and joy.

Slide projectors use a light bulb to shine the slide’s image onto a screen.  This light bulb can become extremely hot when used for a long time.  The wise person would use glass mounts to keep the slide (which was nothing more than a chip of highly flammable film) from burning up inside the projector.  The unwise person would not.

Guess which type of person yours truly was.  For a slide showing a monstrously huge nuclear plant.  Yep, the image of the plant – projected 20 feet high – started to bubble in an upper corner and within seconds had incinerated.  The China Syndrome come to life, in living Kodak color, in front of 400 shareholders!

The audience gasped first, then started to giggle.  The speaker couldn’t see what happened, but turned around, paused for a beat, and said, “We would never let that happen in real life.”  The crowd laughed and applauded, and I am forever grateful for how that man handled the situation.

‘Cause it’s true.  Technology has no conscience.

Copyright 2010 Transverse Park Productions LLC