there is no escaping the fact that – both for better and for worse – technology is changing the way we live.
We can chat face-to-face with our children and grandchildren even if they live on the other side of the world, pay our bills with the press of a button and watch almost any film we wish at any time of the day or night.
So many of the changes that we have seen in the last year or two – never mind the last ten or 20 years – have improved our quality of life immeasurably.
But there are downsides too. In some situations, only a human being will do, and no amount of automated telephone lines and touchscreen computers can fill the gap.
The city council’s plans to emulate supermarket chains like Tesco by automating as far as practical the ways in which we interact with it will be music to some people’s ears. There are plenty of parents who will be delighted at the prospect of, for example, ordering and paying for their children’s school meals online. No more faffing around to find the right change to stick in an envelope which ends up forgotten in a school bag.
There are others who will be extremely anxious about the idea. They will worry about struggling to get hold of someone, either on the the phone or at the local neighbourhood centre, to answer their questions. With the scale of savings that the council are aiming for – nearly £50 million over five years – the temptation will be to cut back dramatically on the number of call centre and counter staff they employ.
That must not be allowed to happen. At least not until the new system has proved it can cope. Significant staff cuts must come after improved self-service facilities have tempted more people to go online, not before. The reasonable fear is that we leap headlong into the future in the hope of saving money, rather than moving at a sensible pace, paying proper heed to the pitfalls.