22 November 2011

On staying offline

We have our milk delivered. It does cost more than buying from a supermarket, and I suppose I am motivated a little by trying to keep alive an old-fashioned model of service (and more to the point, a service which ensures that a customer is visited at least every other day, and notices if the milk has not been taken in...).

So S. is away for a couple of weeks. I put out the milk bottles, and knowing that I won't use much, I stick a rolled-up piece of paper in the neck of one which says, "No more milk until December, thanks," and includes the house number to save the milk-person from having to remember it. Simples! Elegant! Effective!

I get a call from Patrick*. Come to think of it, when did I give the company my number? I must have started on the slippery slope when I opted to pay by direct debit... He wants me to sign up to place my milk order (and overpriced orange juice and... I shouldn't mock; if I were housebound I'd really value this service) online.

Why? Because then I wouldn't have to leave notes for the milk-person if I wanted to change the order. Use the website up to 9pm the night before, and I can change whatever I like.

But I can leave a note in a milk-bottle up to a second before the delivery, or I can actually speak to a real person if I catch them at the right moment! This is progress?

Oh, I know where the company is coming from. Orders changed on the doorstep make for inefficient loading... and when this is a premium service they need to preserve their edge.

But! It's simple. It's reliable. It has no intermediaries. It requires no more technology than a pen and paper. It even permits a degree of human interaction.

*  But all credit to Patrick (that's the name he gave me). When I said "no", he didn't push it; he signed off in a resigned manner. I got the feeling he had got the same message many many times today.

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