Nick's Blog

Silence is Golden

Did you know that 68% of all statistics quoted in presentations are made up? That at least was the findings of a market research company who later admitted that they had made it up, to prove the point.

As I write it is “Black Friday” – another American import to incite us to shop more. Last year we spent £1.9bn online on the day. Its name comes from the US retailers’ experience of shoppers demanding discounts (originally in person) when as a nation America goes Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving.

I was listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 as this was being discussed by a senior executive from DPD, the delivery company. Apparently they have an additional 1000 drivers over the number they employed last year. They have invested in new technologies so that they can keep their customers informed of delivery progress and help avoid those of us waiting for a parcel sitting expectantly in for longer than necessary. It was not quite clear how many of those additional staff were temporary – for this weekend, and the run up to Christmas, and how many were permanent. Recent research has shown that delivery vans are slowing down traffic flows as parcel deliveries hit all time highs.

As I am expecting a parcel today, and it is to be delivered by DPD, I took more notice of the website and emails. I marvel at the precision of my 1 hour slot – 11:11 to 12:11 and will even forgive them the extra minute. I can see a map with Stuart’s location on (yes, I’ve been introduced by email, and we are on first name terms), and I can see how many more deliveries there are before mine. Nearer the time the slot will shrink to 15 minutes – I will be sent a text message. Shame I have no signal here.

All this, of course, is part of the new information economy. The apparent control – I can reschedule my delivery in flight, if it turns out to be inconvenient; the stream of emails and texts, or a website where I can refresh and update progress endlessly, and then the inevitable set of feedback forms all wanting to know how it was for me. As a nation we are spending more screen time than ever before – and it’s switching from the passive – TV – to the interactive. UK adults spend an average of eight hours and 41 minutes a day on media devices, compared with the average night’s sleep of eight hours and 21 minutes. I suspect much of that time is watching the slow progress of their parcel across an interactive map. Only 4 hours is watching TV. (Source: Ofcom)

As a techie I remember the early days of PCs and the verbose logging – to the screen – when you booted up. Every driver loaded, every POST result flashed across the screen. Then, because of increased reliability of the devices and software, and increasing consumerisation, such information was hidden behind a logo – but Microsoft, being Microsoft, still gave you a clue as to what was going on – and I remember counting the times the little green bar crossed the screen. The number of times told you which section the boot had reached (so where it failed when it froze). It was usually 5 (the network section) in those days.

Now the reverse is true – no information, just an Apple logo (in my world anyway), because it just works. Yet the log reveals even more detail than in the early years – if and only if you want it. To debug software, you have to switch verbose mode on.

I long for the day when online retailers and their delivery companies adopt the same approach. I only need to know this delivery stuff when it’s going wrong. Let my account have a verbose mode – and let the default be silent, or logged for me to look at if I care or when it goes wrong.

At least 99% of people would choose silent. (But re-read my first paragraph.)

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