Grave New World
Science has given us so much it's almost impossible to overstate. Penicillin radically altered our perception of previously deadly ailments and vaccination stopped the spread of diseases in their tracks. The steam engine drove the industrial revolution which dragged us into modernity and the aeroplane made the world a smaller place just as the internet made it more connected. The contraceptive pill catalysed widespread social reform while refrigeration revolutionised our relationship to food. The birth of semiconductor electronics in the mid 20th century laid the foundations for the machines which create our virtual world a century after sanitation greatly increased our life expectancy and stopped everywhere stinking quite so much of shit.
But for each leap forward, there's been a detour down a technological cul-de-sac. For every triumphant rocket into space, a nerd on a Segway failed to outpace the cackling youths throwing drinks cans at him. For every MRI scanner saving lives with electromagnetic fields and radio waves, a cat in Japan wearing patented paw-mops was unable to properly clean a kitchen floor. Every eureka moment at a first spark of fire, turn of a wheel or crackle of electricity saw a despondent bald man stare in the mirror after spraying on Hair-in-a-can, finallyaccepting this was rock bottom.
...Of course he'd be wrong. Rock bottom is when that big door opens ever so slowly yet inexorably and you find yourself face to face with a train carriage full of commuters. They look at you, you stare back dumbfounded. Their pitying gaze averts downwards, coming to rest instead on the trousers you've got round your ankles. It's rush hour on a Tuesday on the outskirts of London and it's suddenly the worst moment of your entire life.
Because that door wasn't the carriage door, it was the big stupid curved one that superficially separates you from 300 tightly packed strangers while you're going potty, and some glasses-wearing dick at a computer decided to design it with a load of buttons instead of a good old fashioned know-where-you-are-with-a-lockfucking LOCK! Only collective shock and thinly veiled propriety have so far delayed that genuine technological marvel, the mobile phone camera from pointing your way and broadcasting your shame to the world. It's like a horrific version of Blind Date,with that big door moving aside to reveal the worst first impression ever and no Cilla to diffuse the tension. What's more, the one button which can re-draw a slowly moving curtain on this nightmare has been placed hilariously out of reach without first getting off the toilet - only Mr. Ticklecould stop it mid opening without simultaneously revealing his own.
It's unnecessary, flawed tech implemented where it's neither needed nor wanted. Who ever used a traditional toilet and said, “This is frustratingly simple. Why can't we have a three button system where sometimes the lights come on and sometimes they don't and you never know for sure if you're about to open the door on a poor, mortified soul shitting and if you don't open the door on a poor mortified soul shitting, then that poor, mortified shitting soul might be me in a sec because the sodding light's not come on and that could just be a problem with the light or it might be the whole locking mechanism... Do I chance it? I just want to poo before Paddington, but I don't particularly want everyone to see me pooing..... Why am I even going to Paddington every day, dressed like a berk, always needing a poo? I hate my job, I hate London. What am I doing with my life??.... ” The second part: quite a few probably. The first part; NOBODY.
Once you've played Russian Poolette with the door comes the spectacularly ineffective combined soap/water dispenser and hand dryer. Except you never get all three working. Your options are generally clean but wet hands (no dryer), soapy, dry hands (no water) or wet, dirty hands (no soap, no dryer)...
If designers are desperate for extra tech in toilets, make a lazer that shoots men in the dick when they piss all over the seat they're too lazy to lift! I'm not sure if women are committing comparable crimes against hygiene but if so, I don't know, maybe a big mechanical boxing glove that thumps them in the tits or something.
My mum says there's already too much toilet humour in my articles so i'll move on....
Self-FRIGGING-checkout machines! Whilst I appreciate we're now given the option to scan our own shopping (essentially paying to work for the store), you invariably end up needing assistance - assistance which is usually not forthcoming because it's already been outsourced to your electronic antagonist... or assistance that's out the back smoking an electronic fag.
Missingdiscounts? SEEK ASSISTANCE. After alcohol?? SEEK ASSISTANCE. Painkillers? - think again. I'm a self-employed, full time dad to a boisterous three year old – of courseI'm after alcohol and painkillers and on those rare occasions when we find ourselves buying neither, the Babybelhe insisted on eating from the multipack mid-shop has thrown the weight sensors off so we're back to calling for help.
In the face of such faff, of course the option (like some 20% anonymously surveyed admit) to just pinch a banana or two presents itself but what kind of example would that be setting my boy?... No, we only steal from Waitrose.
The final automated “Up yours!”comes if you're foolish enough to pay in cash... You feed in two crisp twenties and then the machine makes a sort of mechanical chuckling noise as it spits £9.20 back in a combination of 50p's, 5's, 2's and 1's. Your receipt gets jammed in the printer or falls in a pile on the floor with a hundred others. You stagger out needing an extra bag-for-life for your change, immediately realise you forgot to buy toothpaste and start to cry a little bit.
You should have saved those tears for something truly worthy though, because you get home to find the broadband's not working. This isn't your first rodeo...You put the kettle on, take ten deep breaths and attempt to get zen before picking up the phone and dialling your provider.... Zenmy arse.
The first voice you hear is a patronising, vaguely robotic one, essentially telling you to piss off off the phone and go online for the answer to your problem like you didn't already know that was an option. You shut your eyes and wait while they waste more of your time slowly reciting web addresses you can apparently find answers you knowwill not help since you've already reset it, unplugged the cables and blown really hard on it... This fucker needs a line fix or an engineer out. The irony that they're telling you to go online when you're calling about being offline would be lost on a robot so you bite your tongue. Of course you could use your phone data to look for the answer but not everyone wants to trawl message boards and FAQ on their phone. Not everyone has phone data. Some of us just want a speedy solution from a human we're effectively employing, but the robot gatekeepers aren't letting you through that easy.
Resist their initial brush off and they'll then ask you : “In a few words, tell me what your problem is so I can direct you to the right department. For example you could say, “to pay my bill”- you laugh morbidly, knowing those words would lead you to a whole other automated level of hell... “so go ahead, tell me what your problem is...”
You grip your phone tightly and drone “internet not working”
“I think you are calling about the internet. Is that right?”
Well doneyou think sarcastically, medal in the post... “YES”you say, exhaling in frustration as you glance at your watch and know there's a long way to go yet.
“Okay, now, in a few words, tell me what's wrong. For example....”Don't give me a fucking example, I don't need a fucking example!!“...you could say, my internet's not working”I already did you piece of...“or, i'd like to talk about upgrading my internet”….no, no, just having it working for the 35 quid a month i'm already paying you is fine thanks...“So go ahead, tell me what your problem is...”You resist the urge to scream,“I'll tell you what my fucking problem is...”and take a grammatically different tack.... “Broadband not working”
“There's a problem with your broadband, is that right?”
“YESSSSSSSSSSSS”you hiss into the phone through gritted teeth, sweat beginning to form on your brow.
“OK. Did you know you can find many of the answers you're after on www.....”
You miss the next bit as you hold the phone at arm's length and scream at it. The dog wees on the carpet in fright.
“...but if you'd still like to speak to someone, I'll need to ask you a few security questions. OK. Please enter your 8 digit account number now followed by hash”
Not technically a questionyou think with bitter impotence as you tap away.
“Now please enter your date of birth as a six-digit number...”You start to type agai... “For example, if your date of birth is the eleventh of November, nineteen-sixty....”You begin smashing yourself in the face with one of the sofa cushions.
“…. so go ahead, please enter your date of birth now”You struggle to hit the right numbers on the keypad as your hands shake with rage. I better not be paying for this call...
“Thank you for passing security...”Fuckyoufuckyoufuckyoufuckyoooooouuuuuuu“We're transferring you now”.....
Cue 18 minutes of your least favourite Mobysong on a loop.
The dog's just looking worriedly at you now as you lay on the floor, staring at the ceiling, chewing the back of your hand. Mobyabruptly stops and the welcome sound of a call centre sends you scrabbling for the phone....
“Hello, you're through to Rob at _________, how can I help you?”
You sing inside– Rob! ROB! Oh thank god. Thank ROB! I love you Rob, Rob, you beautiful manRob. You compose yourself and try not to let your voice betray the fact you just made the dog piss itself...“Hello Rob, yes, um, the internet's not working and I've tried all the usual things, so could you take a look please.”
“No problem, I'm sure I can help you with that. Before I do, I just need to go through some security questions with you...”
Oh Rob, I fucking hate you Rob, you piece of shit Rob.... Deep Breath. “Sure, my account number's.....”
“okay, thank you for passing security. I'm just going to take a quick look at your...”
“H-hello? Hello????! Rob? RRRRRROOOOOOOBBBBBBBBBBB!!!!...”
Now you can cry.
Ian Greenland www.greenlandphotography.com