Sunday, 20 November 2011

What's On Television?

I watch a lot of television. A Lot. More television than I actually have time for. My Sky+ box is almost full with programmes that I've yet to get round to watching. Recently I had to delete the entire second series of Treme from it, on the realisation that I simply didn't have the time to sit through the ten hours (without adverts) of post Katrina blues drama that had built up in my planner.

But I started wondering about it. With everything I watch - which shows do I actually care about?

I got an email from my friend Dexter earlier, that ended with the question "Have you seen Life's Too Short yet?" I had, and I proceeded to explain to Dexter that, though I have been a big fan of Gervais and Merchant in the past - and had been  looking forward to this programme for some time, I was ultimately disappointed by it. I found it thin, derivative and - aside from the scene with Liam Neeson - simply not very funny. But I ended my message by assuring him that I would still continue to watch the rest of the series in the hope that it would improve.

Does this seem like strange behaviour to you? After watching the first episode, and deciding I didn't like it, why would I continue to dedicate time to watching this programme? Maybe it will get better as it goes on, but there's an equal chance that it won't, so why not just cut my losses now and stop watching?

When I thought more about this, I thought about other programmes that I have continued to sit through, despite being fully aware of their lack of quality. With the exception of Treme, I can't think of another television show that I've completely given up on in the midst of a series (a fact made twice as sad when I reflect that Treme really is very good - I'll have to get the box set in the Summer). I remember when Lost was coming to an end, there were so many people who said "Oh I thought it got silly after the second season, so I stopped watching it then." I've never done this. Even programmes like Heroes, that were obviously getting worse as they progressed, I kept watching religiously right until the cancellation point in the hope that they would improve. I've loudly complained about the lack of quality in The Simpsons in the last few years, but I still watch all the new episodes when they're shown on TV.

Maybe television addiction is a real thing. Or maybe I just need to find other things to do. For whatever reason, it's a rare thing for me to say goodbye to a television show before it's come to an end, or been cancelled.

And when I think of this, I think of all the programmes I watch at the moment. If they were cancelled tomorrow, how many of them would I really be bothered about losing? Off the top of my head I can only think of a handful of programmes that I'd be genuinely upset if I knew there was never going to be another episode:

Frozen Planet (of which there's only about three or four more episodes anyway)
Mad Men (which hasn't been on since October 2010 and won't be back until an unspecified time next year).
Doctor Who
The Simpsons (though this is more because I want to see it continue is reign of longevity than because I enjoy the new episodes)

That's it.
There are other programmes I enjoy watching, but I'm not as bothered about them ending as I would be for those above, or as I was for Lost, Friends, Scrubs or Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

It's sad really. All that time I've spent on these programmes. And really it's all been wasted. It's like going to your favourite restaurant - one that you've been to hundreds of times before - and realising that you don't really like the food there.

I know I should just stop. But I won't.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

My Breakdown After Dealing With The Breakdown Service

The other day, my brother informed me that his car had a flat tire, that he'd called the RAC to come and fix it and that he was going out. I was sad, happy and proud of him at that time. Happy that he was going out, sad that his car had a flat tire, and proud that he'd already found a way to resolve his car troubles. I was also a little confused about why he was informing me of these things, but that only lasted until his next sentence.

"So when the RAC guy gets here, can you give him my keys?"

Of course I could! I could definitely be responsible for that job. I'm a sophisticated, intelligent twenty something. Acknowledging the RAC man and handing over some keys was a positively simple job for me, and one that I knew I would handle confidently and professionally. I assured him that I was up to the task and took the all important keys from him, leaving him to go out and enjoy his thriving social life while I remained at home watching Simpsons repeats. 

Twenty minutes later the doorbell rang. Before opening it, without even looking, I knew that this would be the aforementioned man from the RAC. It was just like instinct or something - some ingrained sense built in to our evolutionary pattern that lets you instantly know that the person at your door is exactly the person you've been expecting all evening. The human mind is truly an amazing thing.

I readied myself. This was the moment. I knew it. I made sure I had the keys in my hand and I answered the door with the appropriate gusto. The plan went without a hitch. Within mere minutes the man from the RAC had my brothers car keys and was already at work fixing the problem. I patted myself on the back for a job well done, treated myself to a penguin biscuit and sat down to continue my third Simpsons episode of the evening (it was the one where Homer and Flanders get married in Las Vegas - a classic).

A short time later the doorbell rang again. The RAC man was back after successfully finishing his work on my brothers car. I congratulated him on a job well done, and signed the form he held out to confirm that he had completed his work to a satisfactory standard. I considered offering a gold star sticker to it, like I always got in school for my good work, but wasn't sure if we had any available and feared disappointing the man if we didn't. I stayed quiet on the matter. 

I considered the task my brother gave me complete, when the man suddenly revealed a hitherto unmentioned part of the job. He asked if I would be willing to complete a short survey on his special RAC touchscreen-computer-tablet-thing about the evenings dealings. 

Wanting nothing more than to help, I of course accepted this. "I can manage this" I thought, "look at how well I've managed the key situation, and the signing of the bit of paper. I'm a veritable master of dealing with the RAC, I can handle anything they throw at me. Survey? Pah! I'll do the best damn multiple choice picking they've ever seen."

I took the computer-tablet-thing from him and read the first question. 

"How would you rate the level of customer service experienced when you first phoned the RAC?"

Uh-oh. How could I answer that? It was my brother who had called them, not me! And he wasn't here! What do I do? Was it too late to just abandon the survey, to hand the computer-tablet-thing back to the man and explain that I couldn't possibly answer all these questions? Oh no, I couldn't do that. How would I explain that I simply didn't know the answers? What would the man think of me? No, I must finish the survey. I'd accepted the task and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to see it through to the end. 

But what answer do I give? How important are these surveys? I had no way of knowing how many people really took these. What if my answers were part of a very small group? They might significantly skew the results. Maybe if I just put high marks for them. Yes, that would be the best thing, surely. But what if it wasn't? Maybe the customer service was terrible, but by offering high marks I'd only be encouraging that and preventing the company from resolving it for the benefit of other customers. 

But if I gave an unjustly low mark, someone who doesn't deserve it may get in trouble. Oh what to do? Even the neutral answers seem unfair. They might deserve to be praised or scolded and I offer neither. I pondered the problem for several seconds, unnerved by the enormity of my decision and the harsh, impatient eyes of the man who had offered me this impossible test watching me. I gave up, let the fates, my subconscious and my natural motor skills decide by randomly hitting the screen with my finger without looking at it. I missed on the first attempt, but the second was a success. Having picked an option the survey moved on to question two:

"How would you rate the response time of the RAC to your initial request for help?"

Oh God. Another one I wasn't qualified to answer. I selected randomly again, doing the same for the other eight questions in the survey. Finally it was over and I handed the computer-tablet-thing back to the RAC man and bade him farewell. 

Closing the door behind me I pondered the consequences of my insincere answers, and worried about the hell that I may unwittingly have unleashed upon the employees and/or customers of the RAC's breakdown service. 

That's the last time I do a favour for my brother. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Importance of Commentary in a Fair Trial

According to news reports, the jury responsible for the outcome of the trial of two men accused of murdering teenager Stephen Lawrence have been told by the judge to stay away from social media sites Twitter and Facebook, in case they include "commentary" of the trial. This is supposedly done in the interest of a fair trial.

This, to me, doesn't quite make sense. I'm not saying I'm against the prospect of a fair trial - far from it - but I'm not sure that isolating the jury from the opinions of the masses is the way to go about it.

The jury is selected randomly in order to represent the rest of the population in coming up with a fair verdict. A small number is chosen simply because it's unfeasible to try and give all that information to everyone in the country and have us all vote on it. But they're still a small group. If they're to represent us, then why are they not allowed to hear what we have to say?

The benefit of social networking - especially twitter - is that everyone can put forward their thoughts on the topics of the day in real time. When it comes to a trial, I don't see why those responsible for coming to a decision can't see what other people are saying about it. Surely by allowing the views of hundreds of more people to be heard, we are making the overall verdict more fair, not less.

I'm not saying they should make looking at twitter the most important aspect of their decision making. After all, they're the ones in the courtroom. They're the ones who see all the evidence, and they're the ones hearing arguments from both sides. Obviously that's the most important thing they should be focussing on. But surely they should still be allowed to see what everyone else thinks about the proceedings - even if they're warned to take it with a little pinch of salt. Because, by our court system, the people tweeting had an equal chance of ending up in that jury. So why ignore their views?

I want a fair trial in every case. And I believe that when it comes down to it, discussion is vital in ensuring the right decision is made. And removing the possibility of discussion with the rest of your peers is not the way to ensure a fair trial.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Save The World By Changing The Nations Working Hours (A Manifesto)

A major problem with the way that all of society operates is the time in which we do everything.

Let me explain: An average work day for an average person in Britain is 9-5.30 Monday-Friday. With an hour for lunch usually 12-1 or 1-2.

Now already this fundamentally isn't fair. It's a well documented psychological fact that some people really are night owls, and some really are early birds. They just are, that's just how it works. Some people can just get out of bed at 6 O'clock in the morning, welcoming the day with big grins on their smug faces, while others gloomily force themselves to let go of the duvet and pour giant cups of scalding coffee down their throats in the hope that the burning nerve endings will send enough electrical signals to the brain to shock it awake. Which is why morning people always have happy sing-song voices while the others croak their way through the AM like toads with lung cancer.

People often say these people should just go to bed earlier - that if they weren't still scouring music forums or shooting japanese children on MW3 at two in the morning they'd find it much easier to get up. But we all know this isn't really true. Night owls don't go to bed early, because they can't sleep that early. Just like the early risers will pass out on the sofa if they even try to stay up past Newsnight.

So why then, must the night owls be punished daily by being forced to adhere to the same working times as the early birds? I should make it clear now that I put myself in the night owl group. I usually don't go to bed anytime before 2am, and that's only because I force myself to - knowing that I have to get up at 8 in order to get to work. If I didn't feel I had to do this then I probably would never go to bed before 4 because that's when my body wants to sleep.

And that's exactly where the problem is. If I'm having to force myself to go to bed when I naturally don't want to, just so I can get enough hours sleep before I force myself to get up when I naturally don't want to, then that is not only going to have an effect on my mental and physical health, but also make me really pissed at whoever's making me do this.

So I come in to work already in a bad mood, as well as being tired. For at least the first couple of hours of the day I'm not going to be working at full capacity because half of me is still wishing I was in bed. And that's the same for all those people who are naturally inclined to sleep late and get up late.

And it could be so easily solved. What if, instead of all workers coming in at 9 and leaving at half 5, we had a system in place where each employee could say whether they were an early bird or a night owl? Let the early birds keep working the same hours they do now and let the night owls come in a couple of hours later, and leave a couple of hours later. Still have everyone working the same number of hours, just some people will work 9 to half 5 and others will work 11 to half 7. As long as everyone's working the same number of hours, what difference does it make what time they start and finish?

The benefits would be huge. Staff would be happier because the night owls would be better rested and the early birds wouldn't have to hear their moral lowering complaining or watch them yawn all the way through a morning meeting. And people get to work at times that they know they work better in. Not to mention everyone becoming much healthier. If you can come in to work at a time of your choosing, that not only gives you enough time to sleep as much as you need, you don't have to rush to get ready in the mornings. You can take your time. Personally, I haven't eaten breakfast since I was 16. That's just not a meal that exists for me any more because I choose to spend that time getting more sleep. But if I didn't have to try and shave down that time between waking up and going to work, then I'm sure I'd enjoy a nice, leisurely breakfast and be healthier and more alert in the mornings because of it. PLUS there'd be no more rush hour traffic, reducing road rage, stress and accidents. If this was implemented everywhere then as a nation we'd be happier, healthier and less prone to stress, depression and other anxieties that can be caused by lack of sleep.

IN ADDITION TO ALL OF THAT there's a massive bonus benefit to literally everyone. Think about all the things you have to do outside work. Maybe you have to take your car to the garage. Maybe you have to get a haircut. Maybe you have to go to the bank. As it stands all these places operate on the exact same hours that everyone works. Need to go to the post office? Guess you'll have to do it on your lunch break. Oh, but you also have a dentist appointment on the other side of town at that point. And when exactly are you going to have lunch? Well you'll just have to grab what you can and shove it down as you rush back in to work.

But if work hours are more spread out across the day, then they're more spread out for everyone. Say you're an early bird. You wake up (naturally) at 6am. You go in to work at 7.30 and you finish at 4 in the afternoon. Need to do all those other jobs? No problem. There's a night owl garage that you can take your car to at 8pm, just after you've been to post that thing at the 24 hour post office and before your 9 O'clock dentist appointment.

Just think about how easy the internet made shopping. You can go on Amazon in the middle of the night and browse the new DVDs. Now imagine everything works on that basis. Imagine we operated in a fully 24 hour commercial society. Imagine not having to think about when things are going to be open, and trying to fit everything you need to do in to those time restraints.

Enough of these ridiculous 9-5.30 working hours. Let people decide whether they want to work early in the day or late, and let the working hours take up a wider part of the day. The nation will be happier, healthier, less stressed, less depressed and much, much less tired.