Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The times are a-changing

I rather like some of the changes that have occurred in my lifetime and what’s more I quite like the fact that we take them for granted. I also reckon that we tend not to realise revolutions have occurred until they have happened.

I mentioned before,  my fascination with the evolution of transport when cycling between Lincoln and Boston (actually part of a Hull to Cambridge ride). The route follows The Water Railway that follows the course of the River Witham, here is a link to a pdf leaflet and map. The route is mainly off-road and has a series of artworks and information boards along the way. Like this one:

From Lincoln to Boston and back – in one day

and this one:

The “annihilation of time and space”

They tell the story of what when travelling between Boston and Lincoln was like and the evolution over time from horse and cart, to boat to rail and road. The railway was built in 1848 and superseded by the mid 1900s on this particular route.

What will be the next “big thing”. Well I reckon that transport combines a bunch of different requirements – which include amongst other things; the haulage of goods and food, the movement of people and and from work, the movement of people for leisure and to provide services from plumbing to healthcare where people live.

The way we live has also changed, for a start the population density was less even 50 years ago than it is now. There has been a move away from the extended family to the nuclear family and even the fissile family. Mobility has increased, more people go away to university (although high fees are probably reining that in a bit).

One interesting aspect of social change has been the push for choosing you Doctor or kid’s school, based upon more data. The trouble is that requires more mobility and is something that probably doesn’t have anywhere near as much benefit as might have been thought.

Now I have always liked science fiction as well as science fact and Isaac Asimov  was one writer that caught my attention.  He is probably know for I Robot, although the film seemed to borrow the title and use a different story line. It was the Foundation series that got me interested. I have always liked stories that  extend over time (and many pages). However one of the themes that Asimov explored was in Caves of Steel where the Spacer Worlds had a low population density and  there was limited physical interaction instead people “tele-commuted” and used robots.

Well I am not sure that robots have quite taken over the day to day stuff in out lives quite yet. However the need to travel could be reduced for more people by telecommuting. Commuting is a waste of time, for those jobs based around computers or telephones then the need to travel is reduced.

Tele-care is being trialled to assist in helping old people continue to live in their homes, but with some dignity and security. Increasingly there has been quite a shift towards shopping over the internet. Social applications such as Facebook and Twitter have also assisted in helping people remain in contact with their friends.

I certainly buy quite a lot of stuff over the web nowadays. I bought all of the bits and pieces for my Desktop Computer build – from tools to circuit boards and the computer screen I am using to write this Post. I buy cycling gear and clothes, mainly cycle gear, but also casual wear.  We have shopped for food and stuff over the Internet – but tend to prefer to do that in person. (Mind you I do like not having to go into town.)

The advantages of shopping over the internet at that quite often you can get something quicker than buy visiting the shop. On Monday I bought some new water bottles and by Tuesday I was using them on my bike ride. Even if they had been in store I would not have been able to get their until Tuesday. It is also easier to compare options and specifications sitting in front of a screen and also to check out reviews. Something I did a lot of when selecting the components for my computer – I changed my mind on a couple of occasions because of information in reviews.

The trouble is the change is having quite a profound effect on the “High Street”. There is no doubt that some people enjoy going out to shop and there are some things you would probably always want to see and touch or try on first. That list is shrinking though. I reckon that part of the problem is that the property prices and rental were driven up as shops competed to be in the centre.

As shops crammed city centres then there was a need to parking, we saw the rise in out of town shopping centres with “free parking”. The cheaper parking was made possible because the rental on out of town locations was cheaper.  Mind you I reckon that one of the reaons that out of town shopping centres became popular was not so much the free parking as because the shopping areas were car free. As a result they are seen as safer areas for kids and seem easier for wheelchair users to use.  They also have cafes and and other forms of entertainment such as cinemas.

So we have had a recession, there is an inexorable change in shopping patterns and town centres are congested. There have been some changes such as using Park and Ride to get people more efficiently into the City centres.  You only need to look at how Charity shops spring up in empty shops, presumably at a reduced rental rate.  Here is a parade in Southampton that has so many closed shops they have painted faux shop fronts.

Now I don’t think it is all doom and gloom, providing shops focus on adding value a that enables them to compete. John Lewis here in Cambridge seems to be thriving and successful. Although I have realised that things are continuing to change

We have had to get a new fridge freezer as our old one was breaking down and although I could repair myself even the cost of spares was at a premium. So we did a bit of web research and checked out what John Lewis had to offer. Our old machine was a Bosch and that was our preferred choice of replacement. However we did want to check out what they looked like before buying one. One with an interesting spec was made by Samsung, but we have not had experience of their white goods, in any case apparently John Lewis only had them for order via Samsung and we read the web as implying they would not have any on display.

When we got to John Lewis – we were wrong they didn’t have the Bosch, but did have the Samsung machine. So we “bought that one”.  Although we didn’t actually pay for it, and we took a form away for the cashback and extended warranty. (Samsung seem to be on a marketing push at the moment). Apparently we would be contacted in the next few days to arranged delivery – in the next ten days or so, and if we didn’t hear then give John Lewis a ring. We also mentioned that we wanted our old machine taken away and we were told to let the Samsung delivery people know that when we rang.

It became a complete palaver with the first phone call from John Lewis asking us to pay, why didn’t that get done at the shop. The we were contacted by the delivers – no they hadn’t been told about taking the old machine. That meant phone calls to John Lewis – they then rang the deliverers and it got sorted, but there was more to pay £9. Not a big deal – but it was yet another phone call from John Lewis and another transaction.

The good news is that the delivery team were great – the new machine was in and the old out in no time. We are very pleased with the purchase and would buy another one. Then there was a palaver trying to work out how to get the cash back – I went via the web to Samsung – bit I wonder how many people fall by the wayside. Then I tried to track down the extended warranty – the John Lewis website was tricky and one of their links was blind.

So I complained to John Lewis– I wish I hadn’t, that then resulted in a flurry of phone calls -  all talk and no substance.

So the bottom line – I will go direct to Samsung next time – why talk to the monkey eh.  All it needs next are better ways to interact with the products over the web and I will buy even more stuff on-line.

Fortunately change happens whether we liker it or not – you can’t buck the market.

What has this got to do with cycling – well cyclists do buy things and represent a significant customer base. Town centres need to adapt – they can’t compete with unlimited car parking (and who would want to) cities don’t work that way. They can attract more people though  with better facilities that are more attractive and sociable. Adapt or die.

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