Letter: People might just survive cyberdoom

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The Independent Online
Sir: Ian Angell appears to have overlooked a crucial long-term factor in his ebullient forecast of a mass-unemployment, computerised future ("The signs are clear: the future is inequality", 25 September). In the long term, companies will have to modify their excessive enthusiasm in the face of what the public will tolerate.

The writing is already on the wall. People are becoming angry to have their telephone inquiries answered by recorded voices that give them a time-wasting and inadequate selection of "options". Downsized driver-only buses are being seen to be consumer-unfriendly, as queues wait to board in the rain and traffic is congested by buses held up at stops.

It is easy enough to be "profitable and efficient" if you simply pass the labour costs of your operation on to the (unpaid) public. People will do the horse-work of shopping by trudging with laden trolleys. They will fill their own petrol tanks (again, often in a downpour). And they will act as their own switchboard operators by obediently pressing buttons.

But they will only do this for so long. There is already a longing for person-to-person dealings - customer-pampering - and the successful firms of the future will be those who entice the most custom not by robots, but by a well-staffed and human service.

IAN FLINTOFF

London SW6

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