Real reality

Work Study

ISSN: 0043-8022

Article publication date: 1 June 2000



Heap, J. (2000), "Real reality", Work Study, Vol. 49 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Real reality

Real reality

I have heard quite a few things recently which lead me to believe that quite a few people and organisations need a reality check. Of course, we are all accustomed to publicity hype - we simply shrug and filter it through our own "de-hyping" filters. But outside of the publicity arena - where we are more likely to expect reasonably sane and accurate pronouncements - it becomes more difficult to apply such automatic filtering.

Many (but by no means all) of the things I am referring to relate to the technology arena, and the IT industry. This seems to have a special gift for using terms which promise far more than the actual products can deliver. Take virtual reality, for example. I have yet to see any product or service that comes close to re-creating (or creating a new) reality.

Take user-friendliness, as a second example. The concept of user-friendliness was introduced to explain to us the nature of the Windows-type interface and its superiority to the previous character interface. Yet, the "old" Word Perfect, with its clunky blue screen was far more efficient in the hands of a good typist than any version of Microsoft Word. Just watch a typist taking his/her fingers off the keyboard (and eyes off the copy being typed) to reach for and manipulate the mouse. Down goes productivity.

Similarly, the number of people who still find it difficult to programme their video-recorders suggests that user-friendliness is in the eyes of the advertising copywriter, rather than in the minds of the users themselves.

A reality check is also needed by the stock market generally which continues to place great value on Internet-related stocks which have consumed vast start-up costs and have yet to show a profit. Worse, they operate in an area in which the entry costs tend to reduce with time so that later competitors have a financial edge.

The game of football seems to think that weekly wages of 40, 50 and even 60 thousand pounds are sustainable. Get real!

I could go on - but I am sure you get my drift.

Of course, I understand some of this lack of reality. It's back to the hype. Selling into crowded markets means you have to attempt to distinguish your product from the rest. If this means claiming massive extra functionality (like 40 selectable ringtones for a mobile phone) for functions no user will ever use, so be it!

I remember a few years ago when a chain of travel agents started to produce genuinely helpful information for consumers - like "don't go to hotel X because they're building a motorway next door". For a while, it seemed that this approach might introduce some much needed reality into the travel business but the initiative was short-lived (presumably because being real in an unreal world is not competitive). Now, the travel industry has started to introduce unreal pricing. A number of the cross-channel ferry companies do not publish prices for particular ferry journeys; prices are available on application and are dependent on current levels of demand.

So since the first few months of this year suggest that nothing has changed, and since we are in this for the long term, my belated millennium wish is for the re-introduction of reality. Not the virtual kind, but the real reality. It might prevent my cynicism overload.

John Heap

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