I'm on holiday in Crete, so more occasional and shorter posts for a while folks.
We flew over on Easy Jet. No complaints about the basic service; the plane arrived on time and the cabin crew were efficient if a bit bossy.
We had to be a at the airport by 5.00 am so I had hoped to sleep on the flight. But every time I started to snooze I was woken by a voice on the Tannoy encouraging me to spend some money. During the flight we were asked to shell out for:
headphones for the film
snacks (whose modest virtues were described in ludicrous detail)
booze, perfume and cuddly toys
The idea that my flight is an opportunity for the airline to hard-sell at me for three hours was reminiscent of other recent experiences of consumer capitalism's aggressive pushiness.
Buying a laptop at PC World the saleswomen was incredulous when I turned down the offer of two months free cover as an incentive to sign up for the store's service and advice cover. I had to say 'no' with increasing insistence for about ten minutes before she shook her head and sighed deeply at my sheer bloody mindedness.
Then a few days later a friend was comparing prices from Virgin and BT to have a broadband package in the home. Leaflets came through the door with attractive and strikingly different all-in monthly prices on their cover. It took a couple of hours of ploughing through the small print to work out that the actual cost was two or three times as much and, if everything was included, the prices were virtually identical.
Consumers are being (a bit) more careful with their money and companies increasingly look to make profit not from the core product (which tends to be subject to a very competitive market) but the various add-ons. Combined, these factors have led to an inversion of the claim companies like to make about their customers. Instead of being privileged people who deserve to be looked after in return for their service, we have become sitting ducks at which to fire volleys of further offers and demands.
For decades we have been told that the public sector needs to be more like the private sector. But while my Lambeth Council dustman may not exactly be a ray of sunshine when he takes away my rubbish, at least he doesn't wake me up to demand I buy scented bin liners and 'split bags cover insurance' from him.
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.