It might sound trite, considering all that’s going on the world, to start a new year in blogging moaning about the demise of leaflet garnering offices. But I realise that the closing and curtailing of tourist information centres is symptomatic of something far bigger, and something which I have written about in another blog, which I shall call the Counting Thief.
The Thief does not steal counting, he is obsessed with counting, a la the cuddly vampire on Sesame Street. But much of the world seems to have the condition of arithomomania. We care only about what can be enumerated, preferably with a £ or other monetary unit sign next to it. Or a star rating. As tourist information centres as well as libraries and media shops also demonstrate.
And his counting obsession means he takes from what is really valuable and stops us, ironically, living abundant lives.
I’ve rued this several times on my sister blog about travel, but finding out about what there’s to do locally and beyond, in getting advice, maps, leaflets, British travel brochures and timetables has got a lot harder. Some centres have closed, some are now add ons to libraries or a box office. Many have vastly curtailed their range of books and brochures, and put most behind the counter like embargoed items or even illicit things that you have to ask for in the right way to see. I was told this weekend that one council ran the library I was standing in, but another the opposite desk with the TIC and that only opens on weekdays. It’s an afterthought, an extra to general services. Another told me that because funding is cut, local businesses support TICs instead, and that they want to see sellable items on display, and leaflets about the immediate city, not further afield. So they want money and value; they’ll only give free leaflets if they can see a sale coming on, or something else that can count and see the worth of and put in a report.
It’s the similar mindset that says – cull all the books (films, music) which don’t seem to be making sales (or issues, in libraries). We need what is convertible into figures, and figures that show the kind of success that an auditor understands. And will please shareholders.
So the value of leaflets is harder to show, for what if some people just take them for their scrapbooks? That pleasure is not a value to put into an accounting book. We are not interested in enjoyment, unless it can be given a star rating and turned into a statistic. We might actually get a sale from someone thinking how much they’d like to visit a place again whilst they stick it in their scrapbook, but we can’t verify that, sadly. Sponsors won’t be interested in a vague supposition.
The other excuse for the demise of the visitor information desk, as well as the more naked shelves of bookshops, is that we don’t use printed material so much – we rely on the internet.
I used to have a leafleting job and my employer recognised that even in this day of instagram and twitter, that people still look at posters and pick up brochures. The net is so huge that you are less likely to just stumble on things unless you already know about them. Picking up a flyer doesn’t involve your signing up to a newsletter or a feed. It can catch your eye, perhaps more than the interminable changing news that we receive on the net.
Here’s some news – that not all of us live on the internet all day. Some of us don’t have smart phones. And some of us do still like real printed maps, books, and flyers.
This point links nicely to my previous post on Steve Jobs – that new technology often tries to force itself on us, by flooding the world with it (I refuse to say market) and making older things obsolete. So it might be Windows 10 or the train over the stagecoach; it might be digital downloaded songs in our pocket over physical recorded media; it might be that you can’t get the parts for a car or other machine. The internet was forced on us by making more and more online – job applications, CVs are no longer taken in over the desk; benefit claims, insurance, tax returns, terms and conditions, full versions of magazines (many cinema brochures are really skimpy – you seen Cineworld’s 4 pager these days?!)
But making it harder to get doesn’t make the desire for the old thing we like to go away. Nor do we have to give it up. We don’t have to accept that cameras are now largely digital; it just means that someone bright can offer the less common thing and make a business out of it. But I know that in that last sentence, I have again gone back to markets and money, and the Counting Thief has made another hit.
New things are claimed as progress, but really it is money making for those standing to gain from the new thing, whether that be Apple or the railway owners.
There’s also the ecological argument, which is manipulative and trying to sound trendy. Do you really care that flyers involve printing, or do you want people to use your digital online service instead? Have you thought that online things mean less jobs – for printers, for front of house people in TICs? Really, you want to make and save money. You’re not interested in Mother Earth, because you don’t as much as send her a Christmas card. Or else you’d be concerned about balance and fairness, and not taking so that someone else loses. You’d realise that energy is the bedrock of all, and that both means the harmful sort that your electrical devices emit, and is vital to wellbeing. But then, you’re not that interested in wellbeing, are you, unless you can give it a score and see its value in terms of relating to sales?
So don’t compromise range for money’s sake, don’t take away things which you can’t see the obvious value from, don’t take away customer service and direct contact. Kind and personable service actually leads to the kind of figures you like. A good range means satisfactions and returning custom, including visitors who might even buy something. It also gives good feelings, and no you don’t need a rating to verify those.