Tag Archives: internet

On Hotels, And People Power

I stayed at a provincial hotel the other day. The receptionist was surly, the room tiny and cramped.

I came down to breakfast to find no one in attendance. I found a place and helped myself to the Continental buffet. Someone bustled over and explained that I should have waited to be seated, however long that took. I was shown to a corner facing a door. Oh, and the food was awful.

What can you do? Nowadays, go to the website where you booked the room and leave a comment. Which we did, to discover that a number of other guests had complained about the rude receptionist, the small rooms, the poor food.

The power of the Internet. Not entirely appreciated, in this case. We know we can order pretty much anything online, at any time, and have it delivered almost immediately. We know that retailers can no longer get away with gouging us on prices, because we can find out first what a product should be sold for.

We increasingly realise that if a business such as a hotel is offering a poor service, we can add our voice to anyone saying the same. After a while, that business will suffer.

The same with tradesmen, on specialist websites such as Checkatrade. We recently gave one who had done an exceptional job, we thought, an exceptional write-up. He was noticeably grateful, because he knew what it meant for his business.

Power to the people. A pity we do not have the same power against the banks, the utilities, the monopoly service providers, often state-owned or state-controlled. We need a similar lever to make their lives difficult and their livelihoods less secure.


The Raid 2, And Why We Seem To Be In Charge

I have been watching The Raid 2, a startlingly violent Indonesian gangster movie. My son and I often settle down to this kind of thing. He seems quite well balanced. It, and the first film, The Raid, were directed by a Welshman in Jakarata. There’s international for you.

The Raid 2 might as well be a product of Hollywood. It is a typical crime movie, policeman goes undercover into the gang to avenge his brother.

What struck me is that the villains all wear western dress, suits with or without ties. The Indonesian SWAT team look like a US SWAT team, or the kind of police we increasingly see on our streets.

When the leaders of Japan and China, both cultures with thousands of years of tradition behind them, met recently for an uncomfortable picture opportunity, both were wearing western style suits. The Japanese tie was grey, the Chinese yellow.

Western style dress has become the default mode for international statesmen and businessmen. Western culture is paramount. When South Korea had an unaccustomed novelty hit in the music charts a while back, something which occasioned great celebration in another country with millennia of indigenous culture to draw from, it was a mock-up of a western disco hit that could have been recorded in New York, Paris or London.

Western culture, dress and style has taken over. Even in countries like Russiam, or China post the Mao suit, which were never formally part of anyone’s empire, the two piece with tie is the norm among the well off and powerful.

This was a legacy of the Victorian era when it took over from more foppish Regency styling and became the costume of the middle classes, whether monied or less so. It said, I can afford clothing that wastes material and includes an entirely unnecessary neck accessory. I am not part of the proletariat.

One assumes its adoption, by Russian biznez or Indian technocrats, is saying much the same. We are not part of our own lumpen culture. We have transcended it. It is as if when the colonial tide abated, it left its cultural norms and accoutrements behind, which supplanted their indigenous equivalent. Then as western  film and music became dominant, the local producers were required to mimic it.

There are exceptions. Bollywood is a bastardised form, despised by many Indian intellectuals, but it retains a degree of authenticity, at least in terms of the music, and is wildly popular in its target audience in or outside the subcontinent. Chinese traditional opera is still popular, as is Sufi devotional music in much of the Muslim world. Some developing world leaders, in Africa especially, cling to their traditional costumes.

There is none of the crossover you see in Gangnam Style, though. The traffic is in one direction. They take from us; we take nothing from them.

Most forms of art that came from non-western cultures were incomprehensible to the west, and were ignored. East Asian gamelan, Sung Dynasty painting, south Indian Carnatic music. Barely known except by experts.

This western cultural juggernaut is picking up pace, because of the domination of English as the lingua franca of the Internet. It is no coincidence that the game changers came from the English speaking world, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, the rest. China, South Korea and India may be good at the hardware, and the services behind it. They will never catch up with the west in true innovation, while we have that inbuilt advantage.

One of the great debates in history has to do with western exceptionalism. A culture that a thousand years ago was merely a collection of warlords on the fringes of civilisation, lagging well behind the Islamic world and China, within 500 years was the technological leader and within three or four more centuries was in charge most of the globe. It is a process that seems to be happening again on the cultural front. And on the Internet, where it matters rather more.

On Retail (Again)

Figures for December from the British Retail Consortium suggest something I had already suspected: it was not a good Christmas for the high street. From my experience, the West End was packed with tourists shopping. There were queues at the big out of town retail parks.

But the high street was relatively empty. There were no queues to endure in each of the three shopping trips I made locally, and few shoppers frantically throwing their money around. It looked like normal trading.

This means that some of our best loved chains will come under further pressure in the New Year, and some well known names may disappear. There is the assumption that this is down to economic hard times, and the growth of the Internet.

It is worth looking at this a little more carefully, though. Online shopping really began at the start of the last decade. But the amount of shopping space, including at the big supermarkets, continued to grow through that decade.

One would have thought that, as the Internet grew over that period to account for ten per cent or more of sales – it now stands at as much as a fifth, by some measures – some of that shopping space would have contracted. It didn’t.

The answer, I suspect, is that too many chains were kept open, often by their banks, well beyond when they should normally have contracted or even gone out of business entirely. This was because no one thought the long, debt-based boom would ever end. The long death throes of Woolworths, a chain that lost its reason to exist some time around 2000, would seem to bear this out. The eventual reckoning for retail, once it finally came, was therefore worse than it needed to be.

We hear a lot from economists about so-called “zombie firms” kept artificially alive by low interest rates. And zombie retailers, too?