Some annoyances to fix

HERE are a few minor and major annoyances that big organisations and individuals should have a go at fixing in 2010.

The petty gouging by mobile phone companies has probably quadrupled the stress for people answering their mobiles. Have you noticed how women rummage through handbags in hurried fury when their phones ring? We race to find our phones when they ring.

The reason is because no phone company will allow you to set up a mobile phone which permits more than 30 seconds of ringing before it goes to the answering service.

You can have more than 30 seconds of ringing, but not if you want the call to go to the answering service, or voicemail as they say these days.

It’s good policy by the phone companies. So many calls go to voicemail before the harried and the hurried can reach their phones. So then they have to reply. Another call, another dollar for the phone company. But it is infuriating for users.

The company that permits a minute of ringing before going to voicemail will get my business.

Then the mobile companies infuriate us further by the way they set up the voicemail service. The recorded voice is inordinately slow. And it lists the options in reverse order of usefulness so you have to hear a lot of useless options before you get the one you want.

I know that a lot of technology-nimble teenagers memorise the options, but I am too fearful of unintended consequences if I get it wrong – like losing all my messages or replying to everyone in my phonebook.

Why do they do it? Money. We mugs pay according to the time we spend on voicemail, nearly all of it listening to a voice more suited to an elocution class for learning-challenged toddlers.

I would happily pay more for the extra rings so the phone companies would not miss out on their precious pennies, provided we users were not inflicted with this massive inconvenience.

Someone should write an economics PhD on it. Telecommunications authorities should do a cost-benefit analysis. Or they should just put a stop to it.

Turning to another petty inconvenience, who was the idiotic management guru who advised supermarkets on how to stack their shelves? Someone told some big chains to jumble things up every now and then, under the theory that people who have to go looking for things will impulse buy things they might otherwise not bother with. Wrong. All it does is infuriate shoppers who like to know where their regular items are.

I have become so infuriated with one major chain that I have boycotted it and gone local.

While they fix that in 2010 they can also fix their check-out staff ratios.

The big chains always make you wait – their wages bill is more important than their customers’ time, even if the customers’ time might be costed out at way above the $20 an hour for the check out staff.

Once, when the local was not open, I went to the big chain at 6am to get eggs. I still had to queue. The store had one check-out person at the express lane serving everyone, including the woman in front of me who had chosen that early morning to do the weekly shopping for her family of eight.

Usually I am a patient man, forgiving of human failure – but not when large corporations abuse our custom.

Now to some more major annoyances which could do with some cost benefit analysis.

Why, oh why, to some car manufacturers put the indicators on the left and the wipers on the right, and others do it the other way around?

Every time you rent or borrow a car you switch the wipers on to turn a corner and indicate when it rains. Worse, if your spouse has a European car and you have an Australian or Japanese one, you are likely to turn into a motoring Mr Bean.

It is not merely an annoyance. It is a matter of safety. While you are indicating to clean rain from the window or wiping to turn left, your brain is distracted and other motorists don’t know what you are doing.

One country – Australia — should bite the bullet. Give the world’s car manufacturers a year to decide on a standard for left or right indicators or wipers — and it does not matter which they choose. But if they fail to agree, Australian vehicle-approval authorities should toss a coin and then refuse registration for any car that does not comply.

We may be tiny on the world-car scene, but they all scramble for the extra one or two percent of market share and they will come around.

Next, can we drive some sense into the cyclist-motorist-pedestrian 100 Years War? Can cyclists please indicate turning intention and use rear-vision mirrors? Can motorists please acknowledge that cyclists have a right to use the road? Can pedestrians on cycle paths please keep left? The road practice of facing the on-coming traffic does not work on cycle paths because pedestrians on the road get off the road when an on-coming car approaches, but on a cycle path imagine they can stay walking on the path. It invites disaster – cycle and pedestrian on collision course, another cyclist coming the other way and perhaps a pedestrian walking on the left. Please, everyone, keep left.

Another one. Why do people drive maniacally up to intersections? It does not get them to their destination faster; indeed it slows them up. Invariably sensible, defensive drivers with the right of way slow right up or even stop through fear that the speeding idiot might barge through. Thus slowing everyone.

And in general on the roads, why don’t we all resolve to obey all of the road rules all of the time? My guess is that if we did, the road toll would fall from about 1700 a year to virtually nothing – reduced to, perhaps, some pedestrians stepping out giving the driver no hope and some mechanical cases.

It would be a bigger public health triumph than if everyone gave up smoking.

Happy New Year.
This article was first published in The Canberra Times on 02 January 2010

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