Monday, October 18, 2010

Price, Choice and Cost

Its national “Get On Line week” and it is aimed at encouraging the 9 million UK people who don't have access to the internet and so are “missing out” on public services at lower cost. We even have The Archers being harnessed for Big Brothers propaganda. Such tosh and a monumental con, and I say this as someone who is a fan of the online world. It is another example of the obsession with price whilst ignorant of cost. We see this approach increasingly, I recall someone trying to walk into a Job Centre and look for work to be told they could only do that if they first registered and that you could only register by phone. Absurd. Taking services away from Sub Post Offices to purely online modes erodes the viability of these social hubs which have an impact on the integrity of communities.

Its slightly ironic when today we have a “revelatory” announcement that Cyber Terrorism ranks as a major threat to National Security.

But its not just the public sector. Supermarkets tell us they are giving us “choice” and “meeting customer need” by providing self service checkouts. The reality is that manned check-outs close, choice is reduced and most importantly someone loses at job all for what? The illusory benefit of lower prices at the ignorance of the greater longer term cost.

I recall working in a Public Library in London many years ago. It was striking that so many people came to the library as a social event, away of meeting people, the chance of some human interaction, the reason for a walk. Borrowing or returning books was entirely secondary to this group, but the service we provided was absolutely essential.

Doing things online to the exclusion of other means, and self service everything, is a progressive attack on personal interaction and a mechanism of introducing exclusion and reducing choice. The end result is that we have to put up with fatuous initiatives such as “Get On Line Week” to try to twist the arm of many who simply do not want, and should not need, to.

We must never under estimate the value of social, and I mean face to face, interaction. The very simple solution to the concerns of bureaucrats behind “Get On line Week” is to ensure that ALL public services are available at the same cost in off line mode to everyone.

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