Category Archives: Modern life

The Perils of Online Shopping

It was my mum’s birthday this week, and she was given a card with a cartoon on it about online shopping going wrong. It showed a delivery van bringing a box of Corn Flakes about the size of a small car.

“I don’t get it,” my mum said.

She doesn’t shop online, so she hasn’t had the experience most of us have had, of ordering the wrong size or quantity of something without realising.

It is, for example, very difficult accidentally to put 30 bananas in your shopping trolley. But it’s very easy if you’re choosing them on a computer screen to select five bags of bananas instead of five individual ones, meaning you end up with 30… as I found to my cost a couple of years ago.

Faced with this unmanageable glut of bananas, I decided that the most expedient thing to do was to knock on a few neighbours’ doors and see if anyone would like some. I asked my then eight-year-old whether he’d like to be the one to do that.

He would, it turned out. And being a child who likes to exploit all opportunities to the maximum degree, he made a banana box to hang round his neck (cinema usherette-style) with a banner saying ‘Would you like some free bananas?’, and set off to sing the Banana Split song each time someone answered the door.

Our then next-door neighbours, who had their house on the market, mentioned to me later that they had people round at the time of his arrival, viewing the property. I’m sure that the small, banana-laden boy singing ‘One banana, two banana, three banana four…’ on the doorstep wouldn’t have done anything to impede the sale. So, um, there was no problem there.

On another occasion, my dad was house-sitting for us while we were on holiday. He accidentally bought a pizza with ham on it. We don’t eat ham, so he went outside to throw it away, choosing a handy bin bag that was sitting at the bottom of a neighbour’s drive.

Moments later, said neighbour emerged from his house, picked up the bag (which was clearly not a bin bag at all but an ordinary shopping bag) and walked off down the street with it. My dad just stood and watched, pondering what the man was going to think when he opened up the bag and discovered the ham pizza.

So as you can see, online shopping can be very dangerous – especially for the neighbours.

Or maybe that’s just if you’re a member of my family.

***

Have you ever had any bizarre online shopping problems? If so, please tell me about them in the comments section.

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Why don’t we talk on the phone any more?

In the early 1980s, my dad, brother and I would watch Doctor Who, religiously, every Saturday afternoon.

(Religiously is perhaps the wrong word, because being Jewish, we shouldn’t have been watching TV at all on a Saturday afternoon. But anyway…)

My dad would sit in his special armchair, with me aged seven or so on his knee, and my big brother squashed in beside us. This was a good set-up as it made sure we were well protected from the Daleks and any other aliens who might wish the Doctor ill.

One day, though, we were out on Saturday afternoon, and we realised that we hadn’t remembered to video that day’s episode. My mum was at home but – disaster – we didn’t have any cash to phone her. What to do?

You remember how it was with red telephone boxes… you didn’t have to put your money in till the person at the other end answered? You’d hear ‘Hello!’ and then you’d put push in your 5p.

So, we dialled our home number, and when my mum said ‘Hello?’ we simultaneously shouted ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ before we were cut off.

Just to be sure, we phoned again.

‘Hello?’ said my mum, sounding a little bemused this time. ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ we shouted over her.

The third time, her ‘Hello’ was starting to sound slightly hysterical…

It worked, though. When we got home, my long-suffering mother had understood the message and duly recorded the episode.

None of which has got anything to do with why we don’t talk on the phone any more – it was just a quirky story about telephones.

The thing is, I think if you’d said to us that day:

‘In the future, everyone is going to carry tiny rectangular computers in their pocket. If they want to communicate with someone they’ll be able to choose either to:

a) dial their number and talk
or
b) type a message to them on a miniature keyboard and wait for them to reply…’

…and if you’d then asked us which method people were likely to choose more often, I’m pretty certain we would have answered ‘a)’.

We would possibly have added, ‘Derrrr’… except I don’t think that sound had been invented at the time.

But we would, of course, have been wrong.

So why do people (including myself) treat most phonecalls as stressful, intrusive and unnecessary? I really don’t get it. And yet, I really do embrace it.

The other day at work, I needed to contact the IT department. Being reasonably new to the company, I asked a colleague how to do so.

She helpfully picked up my phone, dialled IT’s extension, then handed me the receiver, leaving me in a state of panic.

‘Oh my god. She’s expecting me to talk to them? I didn’t want their phone number – I wanted their email address! This is sheer madness!’

Luckily, the IT department clearly felt the same way, because the call went to voicemail and I was able to put the receiver down (without actually leaving a message, obviously), find out their email address and write to them instead – like any sensible person.

It only took them 24 hours to get back to me. What more could you ask for?

*******

So, do you dislike using the phone, and why?

Or do you love doing so, and hate that no one picks up any more? 

Please let me know in the comments section.

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