Idle Eye 143 : The Vox Machina

Is it just me, or does every superstore these days feel the need to talk to us customers as if we have successfully navigated a maiden voyage to the lavatory without sullying the floor, or caking ourselves in our own oomska? If you’re not sure what I’m on about here, pop over to your nearest supermarket of choice when you’ve read this. I can guarantee that within five minutes of entering the building, an intrusive announcement, broadcast to all by a Robson Green clone imitating Mick Jagger, will suggest you make a small diversion to the bakery isle, where freshly-made, three-for-two doughnuts will help you live well. For less.

It’s not the content that bothers me particularly though. It’s the delivery. That sudden plunge, from innocuous mid-range to deeply offensive baritone, has been cynically calculated to recall in every shopper the halcyon days of their childhood, when mummy would almost come if you managed to down a forkful of fish finger. This then triggers a rush of serotonin to the brain, and has us scurrying like insects towards whichever wretched product is currently on promotion, in order to keep the high going.

And it doesn’t stop there. Why not punish yourselves further by putting in a quick call to your broadband provider? Just for the sheer hell of it. If and when you manage to get past the teenage cheerleader and her plethora of unfathomable options, you can enjoy Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at tinnitus-inducing volume, until she starts banging on about the hash key should you fancy a few more. Has anyone ever done this? Actually opted for more options? The only reason to do so I can muster is because you have been lured, as if by sirens, into a perpetual loop of doom, seduced by the prospect of discovering the magic key that will end your purgatory once and for all. At a premium call rate, naturally.

I know this makes me seem like a terrible Luddite. Or one of those Grumpy Old Men you see on the telly who have already become versions of their own disdain. But hold up! If technology really is as smart as they make out, why can’t we get to choose the voice of whichever organisation is preaching at us? Based on preferences stored up there in the Cloud and fully configurable to suit our mood? All of a sudden, that dreaded Sunday excursion to Ikea doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Just as you begin to glaze over in the BILLY bookcase department, Mariella Frostrup virtually detects your loss of will to live, and purrs something suggestive about meatballs into the headphones provided. And before you know it, you’re making a beeline for the restaurant as your family struggles to keep up.

Not bad, eh? Maybe Apple should consider something along these lines when that watch of theirs comes out next month. And maybe then I’ll consider a third doughnut.

Idle Eye 30 : The Olden Days

Hard though it may be to believe as you plough your way through the weekly helping of cattle’s business in front of you now, but on the odd occasion I need to indulge in a spot of research. This is usually achieved with a decanter of ‘2 for £10’ industrial-strength red (min 13.5%, Old World), and a go on my massive ‘style over content’ computer which helps me access topical websites, news stories and films. Ahem. However, the last few weeks have seen my super-speedy 30MB broadband service shrivel to a Coalition-stylee standstill and it has remained thus ever since.

Not being made of the sterner stuff mandatory for a Customer Services face-off, I decided to go the Help & Support Forum route, traditionally populated by angry, semi-literate Neanderthals that use emoticons and swear a lot. Which it was. Only this time they were joined by a teeming throng of bitter, desperate regular folk caught in a quagmire of corporate indifference, their cries disparate but the crux being the same: GET ME OUT OF HERE! Not a good sign. Page after page of anguish read like an online script of Hieronymus Bosch’s Hell and I was right there at the top: Hell’s Hell.

Pessimistically, I posted a newbie complaint and shortly I was visited by Stevetaylor and DannyB01, lamenting my predicament whilst nurturing their own. And as I basked in self-pity I watched it demoted from prime position as even newer sufferers were added. Within minutes I had become a veteran, like Christopher Lee at the end of Taste the Blood of Dracula. Old ladies, students, even web professionals were getting sucked down into the vortex in real time. What chance did I have? Would I ever see iPlayer again? Or even an email? Religion suddenly became a viable concern as all hope slipped away.

And then I thought of Nibs, as one does in a crisis. He is the Elite Republican Guard evangelist of failed services: Dropped a delivery? SEE YOU IN COURT! Shabby marketing? SEE YOU IN COURT! Thread count a bit low on them T-shirts? SEE YOU IN COURT! NO-ONE SCREWS WITH ME!!! SEE YOU IN COURT! AND I WILL WIN!!! I kid you not, this is his mantra and it works. Because now this is what you have to become in order to get what was standard in the Olden Days. Remember them? The Olden Days? When we didn’t have Customer Services because it just happened off the bat, without question? When a little man in overalls would turn up and fix the internet after a cup of builders tea and you’d pop a couple of bob into his top pocket after? Of course you don’t. Because that particular nirvana has been systematically eroded from our consciousness, leaving only the flotsam and jetsam of crud in its wake. So don’t ask me how I managed to post this. Please don’t. Or I’ll see you in court.