Save me from the sanctimony of oilco’s, supermarkets, airlines & ISPs: save jobs from robotisation

me4 All this information that corporations want from us, and all these online systems they’ve installed that have cost so many millions of jobs…..what value are they adding to our lives? The Slog investigates.

I’m sure that, like me, you’ve pitched up at a petrol station, and stood there, pump in hand, idly looking at the enormous range of variously braindead, sanctimonious and mendacious notices that are everywhere. ‘Turn your engine off before filling the tank’, ‘no smoking’, ‘don’t use your mobile phone’ and so forth. For me, the worst of the lot is ‘for your protection, surveillance cameras are in use here’.

Oh right, it’s for my protection. OK. To protect me from what, exactly – an assault by feral hedgehogs? The fumes from people putting petrol into the exhaust pipe? The blast from people soaking mobiles in petrol before stubbing out cigarettes on them?

I get less than diddly-squat from the oilco’s security policy, period. It’s there to stop kids running off without paying, or to prove to the insurance company that other people caused the fire, or whatever other events might damage shareholder confidence in their business. Even if the peeping toms record me being bludgeoned to death by a tall deliquent, (a) the camera quality and/or hoodwear will make identification of the villain impossible and (b) I will be dead, so you need to tell me why I give so much as half a monkey’s scrotum about the guy’s apprehension.

The ability of corporations to spin further inconvenience for us into a philanthropic process or idea from them is infinite. “We’ve introduced these reusable bags that cost money to replace the old bags that were free (and the folks that used to pack them for you) because we care deeply about the environment and recycling and dangers to the ecosphere and choking marine life and little defenceless kittens, starving people in Indian call centres and any other bullshit we can dredge up in defence of this action”.

Will you forever va t’en fou: you did it because the Government is tired of paying to clear up your litter, and the 20p you charge covers the cost of obeying the dumbassed government that has no money in the first place because it suffers from fiscal butterfingers.

So ripple-dissolve and fast forward to recent experiences that only confirm the near-universal nature of this feeble pretence. And unsurprisingly, we are in an airport. I have a suitcase, a very heavy suitcase. But now there is this marvel of modern technology: the ability to check in first at the machine, and then at the check-in desk. What a boon this is.

But the lady at the check-in desk says my case is too heavy, and I must pay 70 euros excess, and we say no, we will redistribute the weight. But that means we must uncheck-in the case, put lots of shoes in my companion’s case, and go back to the desk but not go to the machine, because that will issue us with another seat and then we’ll have three seats between two, and thus the Universe will implode. but we do need a new baggage tag, although I can’t understand why the blue bloody blazes that might be. But the only thing issuing baggage tags is the machine that must be avoided at all costs.

This is Bordeaux Airport. It’s a big fuck-off international airport, so amazingly some travellers are going to have cases that must go in the hold. But auto check-in only “works” (it’s the best verb I could come up with) if you just have hand baggage, or if you have weighed the case before getting to the desk…where the weighing machine is.

There is a weighing machine elsewhere in the Hall, but it’s incognito. No signs or arrows point down at it to say “Weighing machine”, because incognito means incognito. It is working undercover: it is a secret weighing machine that likes its passengers both shaken and stirred.

Now let’s step back a few paces from this nonsense and get real: the machine is there – and every fifth customer inconvenienced – so that Air France can fire some staff because check-in ladies will have less to do, and thus they can process more passengers in less time.

The machine doesn’t benefit the customer at all: you can’t arrive later unless you check in online and have only cabin luggage. It doesn’t make the queues shorter or the process quicker….it simply enables the airline to employ fewer people and give more money to the shareholders.

I’m in Paris again; but back home we had a lightning storm, and when the Orange fixed-line internet box came on again it did almost everything it normally does – flashing red and yellow lights from ninety-six portholes – up to but not quite connecting to the internet.

So being utterly unreasonable, I want to get Orange to fix it before I get back. The last time I went fifteen punishing rounds with these arseholes, they told me it would be better if I created an espace client online, so I did. I’m telling you – you just won’t believe the amazing advantages delivered by having an espace client with Orange.

For a start, you can’t access your customer number there. Even better, there’s a hotline you can ring, at the end of which is a deaf robot that makes you answer yes and no four hundred times before saying she doesn’t know what you want and so goodbye until next time and have a nice day, sucker. When you persevere online, and tell them you’d like to get Orange to depannage this miracle of Korean technology, after scrolling through thirteen pages it tells you the customer that your qualifications for that service are lacking.

You know, my life is so much richer now, I don’t know what I did before I had an Orange espace client. I probably completely wasted my time on pointless shit like breathing, writing, having great sex and trying to invest money in a way that might stop me becoming the victim of being bailed in like all those lucky people in Cyprus. But now I stay amused by getting nowhere with a crew of monopolistic gangsters laughing all the way to the Bourse.

While I was doing this, the new person in my life was elsewhere in the apartment trying to get her smartphone fixed because it wasn’t living up to its prefix. It still isn’t fixed. But yesterday afternoon, her internet provider spent two hours with us on the phone trying to fix a problem with getting my laptop to recognise her internet system. We spoke to a real person, and when it was clear he couldn’t do any more to help, the bloke was so distressed I really thought he was going to go off and disembowel himself. Later, a friend came round with her son and fixed it.

The moral of this story is more glaringly obvious than a fifty-foot blue dayglo flashing neon sign at the entrance to a minefield. It is that employed people helping customers is better for long-term profit and social services than remote, mechanised and generally lobotomous contact with customers.

We are all of us the victims – knowingly or otherwise – of a mad idea, beneath which are smaller (but equally mad) practices that represent the consequences of that idea. The crazy idea is that of making a rich 3% richer by cutting overheads to increase profit margins. The consequences range from poverty, falling productivity and welfare dependence to starving pensioners and blazing tower blocks.