Friday, 6 December 2013

Happy birthday?

So this blog is just about exactly one year old, reflecting the fact that the third edition is also a year old. It is ‘fairly interesting’ to look at the site statistics. So far there have been 3367 visits (390 in the last month), although there is no way of telling whether this represents a small number of people looking at it several times, or a larger number of less frequent visitors.  The most viewed post is the one about Thatcher’s death and legacy. The top 10 country breakdown is:

United Kingdom
United States

But what is more surprising is to see occasional visitors from far flung places: this week, Aruba.

Anyway, there has been another birthday this week, namely my own 49th anniversary (or, as a colleague rather depressingly put it, I am now entering my 50th year). I am becoming more and more grumpy as I get older – in fact, I realise that somewhere along the line I have turned into my father. My current pet hate is people walking around looking at their mobiles, requiring others to jump out of the way to avoid a collision.

Another peeve is more directly related to the book where, on p.131, I talk about the free labour that customers perform when dialling up call centres through automated telephone systems, sometimes even paying for the privilege. Something very similar is becoming more and more common in shops, where increasingly the checkouts are self-service. Thus we scan our goods, bag them and pay without the need for a checkout operator. This is presented as an extension of choice, but the choice is limited by the fact that there are fewer and fewer staffed tills with longer and longer queues as a result.

Yesterday I was standing in one such queue, with most of the self-service tills unused, a sign in itself that, as a matter of choice, many people, not just me, prefer not to use them. My particular dislike is the way that the recorded voice barks aggressively at you – for example ‘foreign item in bagging area’ or ‘item not scanned’ or ‘return to bagging area’, the last of which I don’t even understand.  I half expect to hear it say, like a bossy schoolteacher, ‘you’re only letting yourself down’ or ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’.
As we queued, a member of the shop staff kept reminding us that we could use these tills and, like all good English people, we pretended we could not hear, or that the message was for someone else. But after being told this two or three times I muttered ‘I hate those things’. It obviously came out louder than I had intended, because suddenly everyone in the queue started pitching in and complaining about the fact that they had staff standing around telling us to go self-service, whilst all but one of the manual tills was closed.

Of course it was not the fault of the staff – they were simply doing what they had been told to do. But the sad thing about that is that eventually, perhaps, we will all be duly accultured to serve ourselves and the expectation of being served by a human being will become, to use the term that has been applied to smoking, ‘de-normalised’. All the manned tills will disappear (and, with them, even the chimera of ‘choice’). And almost all of the staff will be out a job as we become their replacements, labouring unpaid, belaboured for our faults by the pitiless shouts of the automatic overseer. It depresses me to think that we will probably not even notice or, worse, will celebrate it as a new found freedom.
Or perhaps we will be found to be such unsatisfactory workers that the recorded voice will tire of us and announce that we, too, have been sacked. Or perhaps bagged. Or perhaps, even, ‘returned to the bagging area’ for re-programming.

1 comment:

  1. Happy birthday, Chris, on both fronts. Keep that fire burning and stop worrying about numbers (48, 49, 50 - they are all social constructions). Stick to qual which is what you do best and fight normalization!


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