“Your opinion matters” (and low flying pigs such a nuisance)

It’s difficult to feel too curmudgeonly when one is in Paris, wandering around at exhibits and stopping for a coffee at decent intervals (usually when the last cup of coffee has caught up with one), but it seems as though the entire Occident – Paris included – is run by bureaucrats and administrators taking stupid pills. Or maybe they are simply individuals imbued with an inveterate desire to meddle, change things, fix what ain’t broke: insisting to the universe that yes, “we exist” and can make the changes to prove it.

Once upon a time here in Paris the RATP, the transit authority, had these terrific little bus maps. You could pick up a copy at the metro or wherever you got tickets; often they were on the flip side of the blindingly useful (and simple to read) metro map. Well, they are now gone. Are no more. Someone, somewhere decided they were just too useful and had to go.

Why they had to go is a mystery to me – particularly since it is not just tourists and visitors who used them; locals also occasionally made forays into unknown areas and needed a hand figuring out the best route. And this little piece of paper one could stuff in the back pocket of one’s jeans made that mega simple. But I guess today we are all supposed to use our smartphones or Blackberries or what-have-you. Never mind that reception can be spotty and batteries die and often you have to have the app for that. (And for those of us who are also “roaming” – well, we’d rather not pay any more thanks very much.)

Place St. Sulpice, Paris

So here’s my theory. Alphonse – or Jean-Phillippe or some other blighter sitting in some back office somewhere decided to muck about with a winning formula, perhaps to save on paper or printing or whatever. (And yes, I deliberately used male names because frankly I cannot believe that a woman would be such a nitwit. So it’s sexist. Sue me.) He grandly called a meeting to discuss the matter and somehow, sitting off in some conference room somewhere, it all seemed like a terrific idea. And poof! The little maps are gone. Making the front line personnel even more churlish and cranky than usual because now people are hounding them about the little maps they no longer have. (And they wonder why they go on strike.)

The problem, as I see it, is that the disappearing bus map is part of a larger trend, that of people meddling in the handful of things that actually work pretty well. Heaven knows there are enough things that don’t work – you’d think people would  have their hands full getting on figuring out how to fix those (not to mention building earthquake-proof housing in Haiti and dealing with malaria and TB in sub-Saharan Africa; hunger and human rights; girls getting an education etc. etc.). But noooo. Those are too difficult. So they turn their beady little bureaurat gaze to the handful of things that do work, the things most people like quite a lot, and decide to do away with those. Even though most of us really do appreciate thoughtful, well-designed, simple innovations like a bus map.

Corporations and institutions often talk of the exalted state of “customer loyalty” and spend much time and effort trying to figure out how to achieve it. What they seem to forget, as a friend of mine perspicaciously says, is about their loyalty to us, their customers. So, nobody consults us when a perfectly good product is “improved” (and magically costs more) even though the old version worked just fine. Nobody cares that some of  us actually used that thingamajig they’ve discontinued because too few people used it to make it cost-effective. (So raise the price a bit, already.)

Oh sure, everybody cares about our opinion and wants to know how we feel about the experience of having been crammed into that tiny airplane seat, how we liked that soggy sandwich, whether we enjoy shopping in their shiny new mall. In multiple choice form everyone wants to know how I felt about the damn experience. Unfortunately, nobody wants to know what I think.

Perhaps thinking, particularly the critical variety, is no longer fashionable – much like that bus map.