DEATH OF THE WATER COOLER MOMENT
Think hard, when was your last top notch water cooler moment? Come on you must be able to recall that momentous minute in your working day when you and a colleague shared the latest bit of office scandal whilst draining the chilled water from your plastic cup. Or perhaps you took the opportunity to discuss who should have been voted off the X Factor, why Eastenders is more “gripping” than Emmerdale or even how you are going to get a date with the new guy in sales.
Maybe you can’t remember, because there is no such thing, is there? As everyone knows deep in their hearts, the “water cooler moment” is a myth, just as the “crazy” office Christmas party is now the stuff of fable because everyone is too terrified of losing their jobs to be the one who loses it through drink and gets on to the table to dance or utter an indecent proposal to his female line manager. So everyone clutches the bottle of Bud or one warm glass of white wine all night, flattening their hand over the rim and trilling: “Not for me, thanks!” whenever a bottle looms, in the desperate hope of not being the office loser.
For a start, water coolers never have any water in them, because no one can ever be bothered to change the bottle. Or unless it is an AquaPoint cooler, they are broken and no one comes to fix them, so they remain ignored and un-gathered-round for months. But the main truth is that people don’t actually talk to each other in offices anymore. They write e-mails. Why get up from your chair and walk 6ft to speak to the human being at the next desk, or take the time to swivel around your chair, when you can hunch your shoulders over your keyboard, crushing your diaphragm, and bash out the monumental words: “R u hungry? Sandwich shop or canteen?”
One would have to be mad to risk having an even slightly gossipy conversation at a water cooler these days, no matter how thirsty one might be. The 21st-century open-plan office means that not only walls but desks, phones and storage shelves have ears. If you had anything juicy worth saying, you’d whisper it in the toilets, in the lift, on the smoking terrace, by text or from your desk by e-mail – in code, of course – “ Did you know Princess Tippy Toes is humping Mr Sales Hulk. Ugh.”
So recent stories bemoaning the death of the water cooler moment because of environmental correctness (it’s giant mineral water, transported from the other side of the planet, so workplaces, eager to encourage tap water, are phasing them out) are laughably misplaced.
The definition of a water cooler moment is “a segment in a television or radio programme that is controversial, shocking, or exciting enough to be discussed the next day, especially in the workplace around the water cooler”. Mmm. It just doesn’t happen, does it?
Let’s examine the evidence. With Facebook, trillions of TV channels and Sky+, the chances of you and your colleagues having watched the same programme at exactly the same time are not just small but dwarf-like. Asking whether someone saw David push Gail down the stairs in Coronation Street, or that footballer getting his ankle mashed in a foul in the penalty area is likely to be met with a covering of the ears and a “tra-la-la, don’t tell me, it’s recorded on my series link and I’m watching it this weekend”. We all exist in our separate TV time bubbles now, seldom experiencing anything at the same time.
But most of all, workers are too busy to talk. When they have the merest window from work, they do not converse with their colleagues but feverishly ride the internet, or write inane e-mails to friends who they see all the time anyway, or, worst of all, forward those mindless “joke” e-mails that usually come with the subject field message: “This is REALLY funny!” when it’s a picture of a dog with a hat on.
Do not mourn the passing of the water cooler moment. Like the Millennium Bug, it was all an illusion.
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