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Friday, October 02, 2009

Talking Lifts

What is the point of a lift that talks? (or 'elevator' to our American friends.) You get in a lift, to immediately be told 'lift going up/down.' On reaching the required floor, you'll be told 'floor one', or 'floor two' or whatever. Then, the door slides open and the voice says 'door opening.' Is this for the benefit of the un-sighted? Surely, if you can't see, you would no doubt have developed your other senses, such as hearing, and if that is the case, you would hear the lift door sliding open or closed, so you could work out for yourself that the door was opened. I can imagine that it might possibly be useful to have the voice tell you the floor number. Therefore the idea of a talking lift might have some use. But it seems to me that we have reached the point with modern technology where you can put these synthetic voices into virtually any machine just for the sake of it. In that case they become annoying and thoroughly irritating. They always sound false and nearly always sound really patronising, as if you don't have a brain in your head and need prodding to be told something totally obvious, such as a lift door opening or closing.

Then there are the synthetic voices when you are queuing, usually at Post Office branches. Where I have come across them they have a male and a female voice. Then, I wonder, how do they select which of the two voices 'speaks'? I can imagine the two people doing the voices (well, they must be recorded by unemployed actors who suddenly find themselves recording these ridiculous voices.) and arguing about who should speak the immortal lines 'Please go to position six, 'and 'next, please.' These voices, done in a sort of mock Shakespearean declamatory style, and the actors rehearsing how to make the voices exciting, and putting the stresses in a different place each time. So you get ' NEXT' in a strident tone, and then 'PLEASE (in a pleading tone) go to position SIX!' And that last 'six' done rather like a military type giving an order to shoot or something similar.

How on earth did we manage before there were mechanical voices? Or are we just sheep and need prodding to do things such as knowing when to go to a particular window in the Post Office to buy our stamps or pay our Television Licence? Just another example, surely, of the creeeping nature of the infamous Nanny State.

The latest bit of talking mechanisation I have come across is in our new local Sainsbury's store here in Milton Keynes. The car park is beneath the store and you can go up to the store via either a lift (yes, it talks also!) or via escalator or 'travalator' (excuse me if the spelling is incorrect.) This moving 'slope' for want of a better way to describe it) has it's own female voice which keeps at you the whole time you are going along- up or down. She keeps reminding you to 'stand still and hold on to the rail' and, as the thing approaches the top or bottom of it's journey the stupid voice says 'please be prepared to push your trolley OFF the walk-way.' So, what do they expect people to do? Just stand there and fall on the floor as the thing reaches the top or bottom? Just hold on to the trolley and get pulled underneath the thing, and cause a pile-up of other shoppers who are following?? NO, I refuse to stand still, and I WILL NOT let go of my trolley, I will KEEP ON MOVING and definitely NOT hold onto the handrail! The thing has a voice  like a bossy nanny or teacher.She bludgeons your ear holes with relentless monotony that you want to scream out loud. On the way down, and if you are pushing a trolley, the wheels lock automatically as you get on the moving walk-way, so you can't possibly get hurt (!!!) if you fall over. Is there no way you can turn off this horrible bossy voice as you go up and down to the car park? If not, why not???

Then there are the 'self-service' tills which have appeared recently in some supermarkets. We have Tesco Express stores around Milton Keynes, and if you don't fancy queing at the normal tills you can use these automated tills. You have to operate them through a sort of computer screen and then scan the bar codes of each item you buy, but they have very loud pre-programmed voices in them, so everyone else in the store can hear what you're up to and if you make a mistake and the voice is so patronising and demanding that it's enough to make you want to take cover and hide somewhere. It'll come, I'm sure, when the things are programmed to tell all the world what items you're buying, so anything embarrassing, such at toilet roll, or cream for piles is broadcast extremely loudly by the machine, and it makes comments about what your're buying, so if you buy the economy version of an item, it'll say something like 'so, you couldn't afford the better quality and more expensive item?' It sounds like some sort of deranged, bossy aunt or Anne Robinson-type. In that case, it's enough to put you off wanting to use them, so I don't. I really don't need everyone knowing what I'm doing, and having everything given a sort of running commentary. I noticed the last time I went to Sainsbury's that they had got these self service tills, and there was a member of staff stationed nearby to make sure customers who used this technology had help if they needed it.

I have actually got over my phobia about using these tills, I managed to use one the other day in Sainsburys. You have to make sure that you don't scan your items too fast, otherwise the things gets it's knickers in a twist and can't identify items. They have two sorts of machines in Sainsbury's, one where you put your items streight into a bag, or they go down a moving belt, like the ordinary, cashier tills, and even then items can get stuck on the belt. And you really have to get yourself organised with the bags before you begin, because the ordinary bags take some separating before you put your shopping into them. Please, supermarket owners, can you have carrier bags which are easier to separate? I have now discovered the way to open them quicker and easier, you lick two of your fingers and then pinch the top of the bag and they SHOULD open easier.  This can be a real problem when you are going through the conventional tills and there's a queue and the cashier is shoving the items through really fast and you are standing there desperately trying to open the bags and you haven't got time to open the bags, and she's more than likely said 'can I help you?' and you don't want to appear a complete and utter imbecile by saying 'no thanks" so, you're really struggling to get the bag open, and there's a lady behind you with a screaming child in a push-chair who just wants to get her shopping paid for so she can get home and have a nice cup of coffee. . . . and there's a couple behind who keep looking at their wrist watch and huff and sigh, and shuffle their feet impatiently. So, this is enough to get you even more stressed out and make a complete hash of finishing off your shopping. Then you come to pay, and you find you haven't go enough money with you, so the cashier has to re-scan the items to remove them from the total bill, or else your Debit card won't work, either the machine won't accept it or there isn't enough money in your account, or you forget your PIN. Oh, the joys of supermarket shopping!
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