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The Greenhouse Effect

With spring on its way, I decided that after the devastation that the winter winds had had on my greenhouse, I would invest in a new one - a nice timber one.

The gales had managed to rip out most of the windows of the old one and left a trail of devastation up and down the garden.

‘Have a look on the web,’ I was advised by my wife. ‘Do it the modern way; none of that trekking round shops and talking to shop assistants. This is the quick method. Compare all the prices, get the cheapest one – do a deal.’ So I duly entered the words ‘greenhouse, 6x6, teak’ on my PC and started my trawl. Most of it seemed depressingly similar with the same prices repeated. Not a bargain in sight. After a while I duly selected the model I wanted and started the process of filling in the form. There was no handy phone number, which was noticeably absent from most of the adverts. The questions it asked seemed to me intrusive - not only intrusive but depersonalised: Password? (not a clue); email (twice)? The questions seemed to go on and on. If I answered one question at the start and moved down the line it obliterated the first answer. Was it having me on? It wanted zip code, office number and mobile number. The whole process seemed to de-personalise the transaction.

Having accomplished the first list it then demanded I do it again (Pay Pal). My patience began to vanish; would it be better to get on my bike and go to the nearest garden centre? It surely would be quicker. In pure desperation I started entering random swear words. (I realise this was a mistake, but computers are supposed not to worry about these things). Eventually it appeared to give up and announced that ‘The sale was complete,’ so I breathed a sigh of relief and departed for supper. At least, I thought, the computer had not won.

Exactly a week later I got the message: ‘Your request has been refused.’ The computer says no! In the box provided I asked why, feeling slightly nervous at being so presumptuous. Surely the computer must have good reasons; I knew there was money to cover it. No answer. It seemed to take the moral high ground and certainly wasn’t going to reply to a human who appeared to lose control of himself and use the ‘F’ word.

A couple of days later I got an email from the greenhouse company asking why I had changed my mind. I replied that the whole process seemed to depersonalise a simple bit of shopping - George Orwell and 1984 wasn’t in it. Big Brother would have been at home with the situation. (You KNOW what’s in room 101!) I wanted to speak to another human being, I pleaded. Could they help in any way – human to human? They gave a phone number. I resisted the impulse to cheer and dance round the room, and rang the number. ‘That’s ok,’ said the voice. ‘I can take your order.’ The conversation and the order lasted about four minutes.

Tony Kane is founder of Time & Leisure Media Group and editor of the Wimbledon, Wandsworth and Putney editions of Time & Leisure Magazine.