by John Ward
Last Thursday, Skype told me the person I was trying to reach was offline. Said person rang me back within three minutes to say he’d been online for the last two hours non-stop.
An hour later, I tried to order bulk supplies of an OTC drug on the internet. It took five search attempts and ten minutes scrolling to establish that the company no longer stocks the product.
Google emailed me last night to say that someone had signed into Gmail using an unrecognised piece of apparatus and they “just want to check that it was me”.
The only problem with this bit of affected customer care was that the e was marked ‘do not reply’.
This morning, I
wasted spent 50 minutes trying to order a new laptop battery online, eventually emailing the supplier twice to ask if they still sell the part. The question remains unanswered. The saga continues.
I probably go around in these circles about twelve times every seven days. If the companies concerned still employed call centres full of human beings, what today takes fifty or more minutes could be established in ninety seconds by a service executive saying “No”.
None of this overture is designed (for once) to complain about inconvenience to me. It’s about why this incompetent robotisation has been inflicted on consumers in the first place.
Two long term and entirely untrustworthy culprits lie behind the shopping frustrations of modern life: large floor area multiple hypermarket out-of-town retailing, plus internet-based software and order fulfilment being mechanised.
They produced the two great hypes of the last half century: that (1) everything’s cheaper in big supermarkets and (2) non-human systems are more effective. Whether analysed on either quantitative or qualitative bases, both are lies of immeasurable proportion, and both have contributed more than any other single factor to the decline in adhesive communities, reliable employment, and public health.
The “why” in all this is very simple: in order to satisfy the short and medium-term demands of bourse capitalism, Board Director greed, corporate accountants and their allies in the neoliberal business community, the globalist army has embarked upon the world’s greatest ever investment in abolishing human salaries.
The idea that remote consumption “villages”, Amazonian virtual buying centres, robots, software, site forums and arrogant no-reply emails are “better” benefits nobody and nothing outside the usual ring of suspects inside the Gigarich 3%.
The desire to change course away from this disastrous route to violence (and then serfdom) is not in any way founded on 18th century Luddite ideas. It is, rather, a preference for anthropological science over Friedmanite claptrap….a plea to call out the truth-benders who have been making hay since 1980.
This tract – I hope to demonstrate – is not politically ideological. On the contrary, it is a headline philosopho-scientific interrogation of our species’ obsession with process and unsubstantiated belief at the expense of new ideas.
The ‘cheap supermarkets’ myth
I am often asked (given I live on a fixed income) what I have found to be the best way to save money in 2018. My answer is always the same: don’t go to large supermarkets.
The questions nearly always come from people over 55, and I accept that eschewing the hypers entirely is for most working family-raisers rarely practical. But the advice still stands.
If you go to a hyper, buy the offers and then leave. I worked with supermaket clients for 30 years, so I know that of which I speak: the ‘loss-leader’ offers are designed to lead customers up and down every aisle and round the garden path. Someone has to pay for the loss-leaders, and that’s you….a thousand other lines will have been ticked up by 3-5%. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Research has shown for years that hyper shoppers buy some 15% more things than they go in to buy. If you just buy the offers and then top up locally later, you will nearly always be better off.
One day, if you stop topping up locally, that local shop won’t be there any more. One day, you’ll be 75 and no longer able to drive out of town. What then?
Out of town hypermarkets destroy communities, erode neighbourhood identities and import vast amounts of food – thus adding to Britain’s awful balance of trade issues.
The multiple supermarkets screw farmers so far into the ground on price, our farming sector has almost disappeared. In the 30 years prior to that, they did the same to suppliers right across the piece of manufacturing. Most of those companies are no longer owned by Britain.
All in all, in fact, the multiple distributors are about as anti-social as its possible to be.
The artificial intelligence scam
Over the last few years, most hypermarket brands have introduced automated shopping and/or checkout services. Others still offer choice online followed by car pickup. Increasingly, the hypermarket white elephants will turn into vast Amazon-style warehouses run by robots: the “shopping experience” will disappear…if they get their way.
And with it will go hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Artificial Intelligence (or AI) is the new black. If, that is, you believe the hype. AI arrived on the back of the internet, which wasn’t helpful. Already online, we all suffer this ridiculous sham-service via which everyone at the ISP or supplier company is hiding in the silo, with a little hut above ground directing you to a “forum” of customers, because the “help” page has been anything but helpful.
Apart from very premium priced internet services, the call centre is now almost a thing of the past. Yet more hundreds of thousands of jobs gone forever.
And now, there’s AI. Think for a second about how many purchases you make using smart cards and automation today. Road tolls, petrol, phone topups, insurance renewals, banking services, and a whole plethora of online services.
Now think about what’s coming – and in some cases has already arrived: tax payments in advance, the gradual abolition of cash, airport security, GP healthcare, investments, media articles….all of these (so far) are merely machines responding to an algorithm. Not far down the line are artificial intelligence systems that can learn on their own, make connections and reach meanings without relying on predefined behavioural algorithms – improving on past iterations, getting smarter and more aware, allowing them to enhance their own knowledge.
As usual, nobody up top there has thought this through: once established, such AI is going to make every existing B2B system obsolete. It is also going to make catastrophic mistakes.
The mistakes will appear in after-sales and investment services because these machines will only ever be, um, artificial. The only ‘experience’ upon which they’ll be building is being a machine. There will be no happiness, sadness, fear, lust or adrenaline. There will, in short, be no emotional intelligence.
And by the time millions more people around the world have been laid off, who’s going to have the money to ask AI to bank, invest, drive, shop, choose insurance and deliver that new car to their door?
The 3% in the bubble never consider such things, because most of them think along a fixed parameter – profit, efficiency, higher margins, more profit, higher share values, more money in the bank.
They like the idea of artificial intelligence because they’re pretty damn nearly artificial themselves. They don’t care about windswept town streets full of empty shops and baffled old people because they never get involved in community life. They are sad, and dangerous.
What do most of us like about life?
This either has to be a Sun headline, or several volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I’m going for the currant-bun screamer.
Some years ago, I used to do a lot of research with Kodak about what photos most people take. It involved at times showing them images and getting instant reactions to them.
The top favourites by miles were kids, pets, beaches, waves, sunrises, sunsets, home interiors, country pubs, twee teashops, grandparents, smart cars and sport.
Thanks to the activities of the Mefirst 3%, that last forty years (and the future, if they get what they want) has been seeing less of your kids, rarely being on a beach, having to have constant petminders, never seeing the sun rise or set, struggling to pay the mortgage, soulless brasseries, grandparents without pensions, horrendous parking problems and hugely expensive sport tickets.
These same morons agonise on CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and the BBC about why it’s getting harder and harder to produce a consumption led recovery, why productivity isn’t improving, why violent crime keeps on rising, why wages are static, and why so many contemporary kids take tranquilisers. In turn, they look the other way as every government agency on the planet lies about the real level of underemployment in the Western world. Eventually, they invent insane terms like “the jobless recovery”.
Listen up everyone: a few sociopathic obsessives live to work, but the rest of us don’t. Human life shouldn’t be about house prices, learning to love bankers, having time on our hands with no money, zero-hours contracts, Zirp, QE, ecologically threatened money trees, doom-laden media stories, geopolitics, surveillance cameras, detestation of feckless politicians, crappy teaching standards and airhead celebrities.
Human life is about fulfilling our individual potential, having a decent balance between family and work, plenty of work for those prepared to work at it, having kids, playing sport, reading for the sake of it, and maximum social intercourse. If you’re a loner and prefer your own company and space, fine….you should have the right to be left alone, free from insults because you hold independent views. And ultimately, if you are utterly passionate about (and committed to) your job, then go for it. But for Heavens sake stop telling the rest of us what to do.
Milton Friedman was full of shit, and so was Karl Marx. People do not aspire to untold wealth, companies do have responsibilities to society, and their shareholders are doing very nicely thank you. People do not cleave in their millions to macro ideology, they do not think the State should be Glorious and All-powerful, and they are fundamentally hierarchical pack animals not noble egalitarians.
Neoliberalism has failed on every relevant dimension of social anthropology – as did socialism and communism before that. The time has come for radical, practical creativity as the means to the only end result that should really matter: the greatest fulfilment of the greatest number of citizens existing in real communities on a healthy planet.