I am pretty tech-savvy. I used to work with computers (I was a PC software technician, a network manager and a Novell administrator for many years, in addition to moderating the biggest women’s discussion forum in the UK for a number of years – front and back end) and I still find it pretty easy to find my way around both the virtual world and the means we use to access it. I do a great deal of buying, selling and banking online, and I am also comfortable on social media.
However, when it comes to things like shopping in supermarkets and more complicated banking things, I wish to deal with PEOPLE. I hate being herded towards the self-service checkouts at my supermarket – which has only ONE manned till for an entire big supermarket in an attempt to force people to use the 20 or more self-service checkouts. I like personal contact at the supermarket. So I stubbornly use the one till. It is often quicker to use the human cashier – despite the long queues of people like me who don’t want automation – because the people using self-service ones are always having problems and needing to call some of the staff that stand around these stations in case you need help (why can’t they work as manual tellers instead?). There is also a lot of fraud at the self-service stations. But nope, the supermarkets are doing everything to try and get rid of dealing person to person.
Nowadays when it comes to banking, all the smaller banking offices are closed, forcing people to go to the huge bank in the centre of Stockholm – where the average wait to be helped by a person is more than 90 minutes. I know because I usually sit and translate on my computer while waiting and I keep a record of the time for invoicing purposes. And my Very Important Reason for visiting the bank? Mundane tasks like depositing cash, depositing smaller denomination coins, depositing money that came via pay-in slip. Banks do not want to handle cash anymore so I have to pay generously for the privilege of allowing them to take my money. They are also taking away almost half of the ATMs around Sweden, trying to force people to use cards instead of cash. They make you feel like a leper if you wish to deposit coins or paper pay in slips (there is a machine to take notes so they at least escape nasty human contact with that). So they basically don’t want to deal with people either.
In the UK, Barclay’s Bank has taken the rather insulting step of naming their self service machines. So you queue up for ages to speak to a teller, who will then tell you go to and ‘see Wendy’ but Wendy is actually a machine. The machines have male and female names and a name plaque, so you know what they are called. ‘Making a large deposit in Wendy’ does sound a little ‘off’ though, doesn’t it? They have cut down on tellers (making the queues even longer), and instead have staff hovering around the machines to help people use them, which seems to defeat the purpose.
One rather sad development I think is that the Swedish Public Unemployment Service/Job Centre does not deal face to face with its users anymore. Instead of meeting and going through monthly activity reports and discussing them, these reports are now done online and sent electronically. Being unemployed is very isolating and lonely and people are without the contact of colleagues and the kick of getting out every day with the purpose of going to work. It seems rather counterproductive to get them to sit at home and send their reports with one click of a button. Sometimes the unemployed person does not see a human at the Employment Service for more than 9 months. Once again, they just don’t want to deal with people.
Also, the only personal contact many old people have is when they go to the bank, the pharmacy and the supermarket. Dealing solely with machines (as we will be doing in a year or two, mark my words) will be a depressing experience.
What does everyone else think?