Virtual Barriers Protect Those Whose Duty It Is Not To Care

27 12 2009

duty of care n. a requirement that a person act toward others and the public with watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would. If a person’s actions do not meet this standard of care, then the acts are considered negligent, and any damages resulting may be claimed in a lawsuit for negligence

I was going to blog about important issues that have affected the world over the last few days.

I considered a discussion on the failings of the two-week climate change conference in Copenhagen which wasn’t exactly a roaring success.

Coupled with some thoughts about global warming when the East Coast of the USA was hit with a severe blizzard and London was paralysed by the usual three inches of snow.

Which may have led to me being distracted from my usual concerns with life, the universe and everything.

Healthcare in the US, an issue I have been following with great interest, even moved forward slightly this week after 25 days of fierce debate in the Senate. The margin of approval was 60-39, not exactly a ringing endorsement but at least the premis has been approved. It might even be passed into law soon (but I don’t want to jinx anything!).

Then, we have the ongoing fight against terrorism and the war in Afghanistan. As Christmas came and went, more US and UK troops were killed in the line of duty without even the prospect of a friendly game of soccer against the Taliban to bring some cheer to their loved ones.

We had a Nigerian “student” attempting to blow up a Delta plane by combining chemicals sown into his clothes. The only casualty was the bomber who received third degree burns and of course the thousands of passengers who will now be forced to endure long delays due to more security searches with the joy of being confined to their seats for the final hour of their journey. 

Which is not that fun if you have been drinking the vast amounts of water recommended by the cabin crew to stave off the deep vein thrombosis which occurs during periods of lengthy sitting.

I was going to write something about these issues but something else has been troubling me (mainly due to my ongoing fight with EXPEDIA) and this is the Duty of Care in society.

Especially a society that increasingly relies on the virtual world to make purchasing decisions and to enact transactions through the wonder of the world-wide web.

In the days before it became fashionable to buy your groceries “on-line” and have them delivered to your door by a minimum wage delivery person, you would go to the store and peruse the selection on display. If you wanted to buy bread with an expiry date of the next day or fruit that was on the cusp of going off, then you made your purchase in good faith.

When you wanted to go on holiday you went to a travel agent, who sorted out the best deals at a reasonable price and who explained any terms and conditions that were relevent. If the hotel was rubbish then you could go back to that human being and vent your spleen.

If you bought a suit for a wedding that, upon sitting, the trousers ripped and you spent the entire ceremony with your hand fondling your own buttocks, then at least you could return to the store and get it repaired. For Free. 

But when you purchase groceries, holidays, insurance, clothing and all manner of other odds n sods through the “convenient” medium of  t’internet, it seems that any problems that arise become an exercise in futility.

No-one is to blame.

Except the customer – who for years were under the impression that they were always right.

The internet companies trade under a banner of convenience for the buyer, an ease of transaction which allows the client to feel privileged that they are able to book their own holiday or to plan their own experience without the inconvenience of leaving their home/office/portable device.

And if the customer has a problem or needs to make amendments, then there are always the 24 hour (no)helplines which will soothe your passage and ensure that your concerns are dealt with.

Which is about the amount of time it takes to talk to a human being after being on hold and then directed through the hateful automated choices menu.

And when you do get to speak to a Customer Service Representative, you find yourself pining for the computerized voice. Because you know that it doesn’t care.

And neither do the human beings.

I am sure that there are many fine employees of these companies, and I am sure that in their own minds they are doing everything possible to ensure that our problems are dealt with quickly and efficiently.

But we now live in a culture that denies liability before even considering responsibility.

It is easier to bounce the complaint to another department or (even better) another company. Far easier to be anonymous behind the screen or on the end of a telephone and to hide away any relevent information in a mass of terms of conditions that confuse rather than enlighten.

By embracing the virtual world and placing our trust in those who do nothing more than sit in front of screens themselves, we have ensured that Duty of Care is no longer adhered to in the same manner.

If you can’t look someone in the eyes, how can you apportion blame for their negligence?

If the customer is no longer right, then we should all be very careful with whom we choose to do business.

Caveat Emptor.

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