Monday, 18 February 2013
George Orwell and the commodification of consumers
We're all supposed to be quoting George Orwell these days so here goes.
Facebook: 'How are you doing?'
Sainsbury's checkout person: 'How's it going?'
You can look from machine to man, and back again, and it's becoming impossible to say which is which.
Two things this week made me realise how phoney our everyday transactions have become, and how they've squeezed out any genuine human interaction. Courtesy? Treating a customer as a genuine human being? Forget it.
I was in Sainsbury's on Friday afternoon buying a few essentials, because the supermarkets have killed all the corner shops. As I started putting my shopping into a bag, the young man on the checkout asked asked 'How has your week been?' They've trained him to say that. If I'd told him I'd just lost my job or my mother had died, how would he have reacted? Have they trained him for that?
Neither of those things are true, but I suspect they are statistically likely to have been true for at least one of the people who passed through the supermarket this week. So how are these people expected to feel when a total stranger asks them their – painful – business?
Is that genuine good manners – courtesy and consideration – or is it the opposite?
It goes without saying that the young man also wished me to have a nice evening.
On Saturday, I visited what passes for a corner shop round here, the railway station Spar, and bought the Guardian. The woman said 'have a nice day' as she handed me my change. I thought for a moment that she might actually have meant it. Wrong.
Five minutes later I was back at the Spar, having unwrapped the Guardian and found there was a section missing. I thought it would be as simple as explaining the situation and getting a replacement. But no. Before the words were out of my mouth, the woman responded with 'It's nothing to do with us, you have to ring Smiths' (the distributors), followed closely by 'You can't have a replacement, you've opened it.'
You only have to google 'Sale of Goods Act' to know that these statements are wrong. But she's been trained to say this, just like she's been trained to wish me a good day.
I did get the replacement, because I'm stubborn. I didn't get a 'have a good day' this time. I didn't even get an apology.
Having a corporation try to do me out of £2.30 isn't, perhaps, a big deal. But knowing that corporations are so scared of admitting liability that they won't even allow their staff to use the word 'sorry' ought to be a huge deal.
This is what we have come to. They only want us when we fit the script. We're all just part of the machine.