Sunday, March 15, 2015

Changes that creep up on us

Sitting in the train yesterday I was brought up short by one of those endless announcements that now annoyingly punctuate every journey.  “Customers are advised….”  Each time I hear the word “customer”, it irritates me.  Since when have passengers transformed themselves into customers?

I think of customers as people who pay for some service, passengers as people who travel in some kind of vehicle.  Is this then another sign of today’s overwhelming interest in money above all?  And what was wrong with seeing me as a passenger, as all travellers in any vehicle have always been known as?  I somehow can’t see an 18th century coach driver calling his passengers customers. What is the rationale behind this, I wonder, except perhaps to give some work to some office somewhere in British Rail charged with finding new ways of saying old things?

It intrigues me why a change such of this has been thought necessary.  And this has set me thinking about other new ways of saying old things which have puzzled me.  There is, for example, the recent replacement of the good old word “alias” by the clumsy abbreviation “aka” (“also known as”).  Again, what was wrong with “alias”?

And then, to add to the odd things I have noticed, comes the disappearance of the Request Stop for buses on London’s roads.  In the good old days there were two sorts of bus stops, the ones at which all buses stopped irrespective of whether anybody was waiting.  You simply got up from your seat in the bus and waited for the bus to stop without ringing the bell.  And if you were waiting at the bus stop you did not need to wave the bus down, but just waited for it to stop, as you knew it would.  Request Stop signs were red, unlike the main stops which were and still are white, and were the ones where you, as a passenger (not a customer!), would need to stop the bus by signalling to it.  If you were not paying much attention, and did not signal quickly enough, the bus simply sailed on by.

Then I started to notice that people were ringing the bell inside the bus at whatever stop we were coming to, Request Stop or not.  And buses no longer stopped at stops which were not Request Stops. When did they start doing this and why?  Now everybody rings the bell at every stop, and everybody puts out a hand to stop the bus they want at whatever stop.  I realise that I don’t know whether all the red Request Stop signs have been replaced, or are simply being ignored, so today I will be looking out of my bus window (my usual mode of transport wherever I go in London) to check this.

This is another sign of the fact that we are now constantly being asked to do more and more work ourselves.  Where before I could leave it to the bus driver simply to draw in at many of the stops, now I have to make sure that I take steps to stop him (or increasingly her).  And in a book I read recently, it was pointed out that the computerized world of ours, by giving us the tools to do things like booking our own travel or buying our own shopping in supermarkets, actually makes each of us individually work harder and harder doing things which in the past other people did for us, such as travel agents and shop assistants.  We simply used to ask a travel agent to book us on a flight on such and such a day for such and such a place, and then waited for the phone call telling us that they had made the booking, and the letter to arrive with the airline ticket.  Of course there weren’t all the cheap flights around, and this is what we may have to accept in return for cheaper flights.  Yet even expensive flights, like mine to China, now require that I do all the work on my computer, trying to fathom all the complex choices I am confronted with, just as it is now up to me to make sure that I stop any bus I want to get on to.







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