Rude, abrupt and unhelpful... what has happened to people?

What has happened to the people since Covid? So asks Ailin Quinlan
Rude, abrupt and unhelpful... what has happened to people?

“This octogenarian was nifty enough on the mobile phone and could read and write text. She was able to access emails and photographs sent by her children to her tablet, but when it came to navigating a big insurance website, she was at a bit of a loss.” Picture: Stock

LIFE was getting very complicated. Her last attempt to pay her house insurance over the phone had failed. All she wanted to do was pay her bill and what she got was music. You couldn’t get hold of a person to talk to.

She had rung the insurance company on four separate occasions without success. The company clearly wanted her to process her payment online, but she wasn’t sure how to do that.

This octogenarian was nifty enough on the mobile phone and could read and write text. She was able to access emails and photographs sent by her children to her tablet, but when it came to navigating a big insurance website, she was at a bit of a loss.

She had been born, remember at a time when the chance of sighting of a motor car was about the same as spotting a unicorn. There was no electricity in the house where she was reared. No running water. No electric heating. At age six, she ran up and down the stairs with buckets of coal to the family rooms in a home on South Terrace.

She had done well in life and had kept up with a rapidly changing world, but now, she worried, the world was leaving her behind.

She was lucky, she said, that her adult children were all very good to her, so there was always somebody to help when she got into a fix. Her daughter paid the insurance online for her. Her sons had been drafted in to help when there was a problem with her mobile phone and it took two of them; the first lad had trouble getting it resolved.

Thank the Lord God she’d held onto the landline, although that had been giving trouble lately too and it ended up being the same thing; impossible to get anyone on the end of a phone to talk to, and in the end another of her offspring sorted it.

It frustrated her that such ordinary things which underpinned the structure of everyday life, seemed to have become so complicated and difficult all of a sudden. Nothing was simple or straightforward anymore.

The binmen who collected her rubbish couldn’t be bothered returning the wheelie bin to the pavement - they left it thrown out on the road, and it was a struggle to drag it up onto the high path again.

Things disappeared in the post; she’d given up putting notes in birthday cards for the grandchildren.

She was handy enough on the tablet, but she knew plenty of people her age and younger who were not, and others who didn’t even have a computer. There were plenty of older people whose adult children were busy, preoccupied and unhelpful; people for whom the needs of their parents were at the very bottom of a long list of priorities.

There were elderly people whose offspring were abroad somewhere, like in Australia or America, and if they couldn’t manage the computer, she said, they were banjaxed.

Online banking was a maze to them, and so many branch offices had closed. And now that she was on the subject of modern life, what had happened to the people? They were gone so rude since Covid. They were unfriendly and abrupt and rough in their tone.

She’d been in a supermarket the other day and spotted some lovely cooked chickens on sale. She went to the counter and asked a simple question of the retail assistant. 

“Excuse me, could you let me know how much those chickens are?”

Not looking up from what she was doing, the assistant barked at her to wait. Not a smile. No “I’ll be with you in one moment, Madam.” Instead she was curtly instructed to “wait”.

And she was left there, standing, small, thin, 84, until the assistant was good and ready to tell her the price of something that she surely knew. Maybe some customer service training is needed at our shop counters?

People cycled fast along the footpath - not the road - just outside her house, never looking where they were going. And if they weren’t belting quickly down the footpath on their bikes or their electric scooters as if they were on a road and not in imminent danger of colliding with pedestrians, they were walking with their phones held up to their faces, eyes glued to the screen as if there was nobody else on the street. They didn’t not bother to look where they were going. It was up to everyone else to scuttle out of their way. Was it just her?

No, I said, it’s not just you. I told her about the guy I saw cycling the wrong way down a busy city road, his phone held up to his face. He wasn’t looking where he was going either, and if anybody hit him, he would be unable to comprehend that it was his own fault.

“People don’t take responsibility for their actions anymore,” I observed.

I told her about the time I saw a cyclist on a pavement coming up fast behind a pedestrian. I beeped at him and gestured to him to move on to the road. Instead he followed me until I parked, and stood at my window arguing, contrary to all evidence, that he was perfectly within his rights to cycle on a footpath.

So there you go. We can’t all be imagining. Ireland of the welcomes, how are you.

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