It’s funny how personal micro-experiences can produce a seditious line of thought. Security services will, of course, always tell you that sedition is bad for all of us. By which they mean them. When a rickety, rotten old system is being propped up by the only folks likely to benefit from it, there is nothing wrong with peaceful sedition: sedicious reforms end pernicious oligarchies.
So it was that, last Thursday, my partner went back to her demanding profession following the holidays, and I got ready to start putting a new communications strategy in place. To get on with our lives, what we both needed was phones and internet access.
Predictably, as the clock ticked towards 9:30 am, we lost both.
In 2014, the French cable company Numéricable and the mobile phoneco SFR merged. I would imagine that this momentous event passed you by…and if so, I offer you my sincere congratulations. For the chances are that you will never have to deal with the awful monster that has been expelled forth from the conjugal rites of this corporate Beast with two Backs.
The merged entity is a sort of cunning Quasimodo: sinfully ugly in its dealings, deaf to the needs of customers, horribly disfigured in its structure, and prone to the sort of mendacity to which Tony Blair can only aspire in vain.
To be fair (but why be fair when you can be honest) some of what appear at first sight to be bare-faced lies later turn out to be little more than a cretinous idiot with zero technical knowledge in one half of the company blithely imagining that someone in the other half might be remotely interested in arranging something convenient to, and useful for, the customer. It says a lot about a corporate entity in which even call-centre morons have higher consumer satisfaction aspirations than the sociopaths selling in the other half. But that’s the way it so often is these days.
Either way, I was firmly – nay categorically – assured during the space of three hours by SFR Numéricable staff that:
* The router was fine except for the ethernet bit
* The ethernet bit wasn’t the problem
* The contract allowed for a free replacement router immediately in the shop
* A man would be coming the following Monday to check out the whole system
* However, if there was already a man lined up for the following Monday, we couldn’t have a free replacement (said the SFR shop)
* Oh yes we could (said the Numéricable office staff)
* Oh no we couldn’t (said the SFR computer)
* The real problem was with the cable infrastructure in our sector of Paris, but it would be fixed by Saturday
* But it might not be, so don’t stand down the man coming on Monday.
Armed with this eclectic range of contradictory knowledge, one could be forgiven for thinking that this wasn’t a merger of two companies at all, but in fact a pointless attempt at procreation by two very distant species. Thus the problem was not so much one of left hand/right hand miscommunication, as left hoof in mouth and right tentacle up arse.
At one and the same time, we were being told to cancel or firm up Monday man, rest assured or be doubtful about Saturday service, demand the replacement router or shut up about the bloody router, and bin the old router or stick to it through thick and thin.
The net result in our apartment is continuing zero net, phones or TV. This is what you get when soi-disant “mergers” produce one company whose ineptitude seeps into every cubic millimetre from babbling brook to river-mouth.
Throughout Europe, the curse of hitech comms ‘concentration’ is everywhere to be seen. In offices, bedrooms, studies, shops and cafés, pcs and androids and printers and mobiles go variously slow, wrong, AWOL, down and doolally. Hardware buffs insist that the chief problem is software, software nerds claim that the electronics let down the software, and corporate spin blames everything on user error. All the merger of two animals delivers to the circus is an enhanced ability to screw up the admin, blame each other, and chuck water-buckets over the audience.
The people in the boardrooms, telecoms ministries and legislatures are largely shielded from “the user experience”. They send out edicts saying staff should be more “customer facing” (as if there was any other way to face), pass regulations they imagine will be followed, and stick closely to the red carpets of life among the 3%. Communication among this élite is undertaken by lobbyists, news managers and their allies in the media: so while elected representatives are looked after, they’re also told pretty regularly what they have to do. Or else.
But the serving staff behind the counters, in the warehouses or call centres and on the after-sales service teams know exactly how big a crock the deal is. Their job (and there is no debate about this, or else you are disappeared) is to tell various shades of lie. It is no different to the situation in telesales, financial services, insurance companies, airlines, car hire, construction, holiday marketing or private medicine: keep overpromising, say anything – but get that signature on the credit card and agreement, or you are dead meat buddy.
In a globalised, remote, long supply chain, target driven world propped up by credit, small print, homoaeopathic employee loyalty and pacific customers, nothing is ever going to “get better” for the end user. Consumers stopped being sovereign decades ago, when deregulation came in, ethics went out of the window, and complainers somehow became objects of derision.
There are so many ways to tackle the problem, the choice is bewildering: a much greater civic element in education, ruthless control of lobbying, punitive corporate and bureaucratic accountability, blocking the business employment of former legislators, and apolitical arbiters outside the Courts with powers to act on behalf of the victims….be they victims of professional malpractice, media harrassment, corporate mendacity or police inaction.
Sadly, the point has now been reached – to be accurate, we probaby got there about halfway through the New Labour spin siesta – when everyone in a white hat says, “My God, there’s so much to do….I don’t know where to start. So I won’t”. That analysis of the mountain climb is right, but the awe is misplaced: all you need is a rope, some professional guides, and grit.
If we produce better citizens, encourage and protect small business, make the multinationals pay their way, bar the access of graft to legislators and devolve more power to local level, communities can be restored and accountability made a table-stake.
But the starting point is to starve the ideologues out of existence. And at the core, that means two goals: taking the money out of politics, and moving to a modern, grown-up electoral system.
Only those actions can stop the endless fist-fight between two sets of self-obsessed bullies offering us nothing beyond the busted flush of uncaring neoliberal economics or socialist-inclined political correctness. They’re fine as a choice of suicide procedures, but totally unfit for any other purpose.
To exemplify this, look at the way both Trump and May talk of a land where everyone can benefit, and then suggest tax cuts for the rich and benefits cuts for the poor. Look at the way Corbyn and Abbott talk about a crackdown on internet abuse….of them. Look at how both Parties jump on every bandwagon marked ‘accountable media’ – but never on one marked ‘regulated finance’ or ‘democratic trade unions’.
This isn’t thinking designed to aid the exploited citizen: it’s just another tactic in the 24/7 attempt to help themselves.
Stop donations, restrict lobbying and reform the electoral system. Those actions won’t be the beginning of the end for stale, divisive politics. But they will mark the end of the beginning of the Corporate State.