#ranthill: expectations – stuff: lower; people: higher

i have some thoughts to share friends.

you see, i think we have got to the point where we have got two types of expectations seriously out of kilter. i was on a train last week from Exeter to Bristol and in my carriage were newly installed TV screens attached to the back of every chair (yes, except the rearmost ones, ah…..).

a message on the screen read something to the tune of “You are now journeying in the first train carriage in the world to be fitted with the latest in pay-per-view entertainment technology – press here for more details.”

looking at the screens sent me into a fleet of reminiscences: i remember when i had a black and white TV that you had to tune to the correct frequency with a dial. in fact, i still remember the frequencies: BBC 1 was C51 (714MHz), BBC2 was C44(658MHz), ITV was C41 (643MHz) and Channel 4 was C47(682MHz).

then there was my grandparents’ TV, which was colour, freaking massive (front to back) and had a panel of buttons for controlling the channels, conveniently situated on the sitting room wall – slightly further away from the sofa and armchairs than the actual set itself. my grandad often confused it with the thermostat and used to explode into fits of rage as Emmerdale Farm refused to yield to This Is Your Life, and instead the room just got hotter and hotter.

moreover, there was how crap the reception generally was, especially if there was any ‘weather’ around (and what a stupid phrase that is incidentally), which, in Cornwall, there always was. i remember being satisfied if i could consistently see the ball, whilst watching football (Division 1, live, on a Saturday afternoon, on BBC1). then there was the fact that after a while the picture on colour sets would intermittently turn all yellow or red (sorry magenta) and would require a firm bash on the top to correct this. the gap between the required bashes would then shorten, until you’d give up and then eventually forget that the other two primary colours ever existed.

all of these were perfectly normal parts of the TV watching experiences of my childhood and adolescence – and i’m really not even THAT old, nor  did i grow up THAT poor. we had mid-level electronic equipment and thoroughly mid-level expectations regarding its performance. unless The Godfather II was showing, there wasn’t really any notion that you would be able to sit down and watch TV all evening, without moving – and given how unlikely that scenario was and the unmitigated crap that was mostly on, you basically wouldn’t have ever wanted to do so anyway.

so, there i was, sat on a train with a thin, crystal-clear touch-screen LCD TV staring back at me from the rear of the seat in front, loaded with hours of premium TV programmes available for everyone in the carriage to watch for a fairly modest fee, and i couldn’t help thinking how far things had come in the few, yes few, years since i was 9 and TV was hard work.

then, the screen of a guy sitting opposite me flickered and stopped working for about 30 secs before starting back up where it had left off. the guy, who must have been in his 50s, turned to the woman who was with him and said simply “pile of crap”.

how short our memories and how high our expectations have become.

i was on a flight from London to New Jersey last year when, shortly after we’d boarded and taken our seats, an announcement came over the address system explaining that ‘they’ were very sorry, but there was an error with some of the plane’s equipment and therefore … none of the in-flight movies would be available to view during this flight. the various TV shows, music albums and games would be accessible, but the movie database, not.

given the tone of the announcement and the fact that the words ‘error’ and ‘plane’ had been connected by the words ‘with the’, i couldn’t believe not only the extent of the groan that went up from those around me, but the near riotous reactions of some of my section’s more expressive (i’m going to say American) passengers.

i still think of flying as something of a terrifying, inexplicable miracle. yes, it’s an expensive way to travel, but it gets you to the other side of the sodding world and it kills the planet a bit in so doing – two good reasons for a high price tag as far as i’m concerned. on that occasion, as long as i arrived in New York on the day i was supposed to and in one basic piece, i was going to be happy. to be fair, i probably wouldn’t have enjoyed my flight if Continental had provided a hot tub each and plenty of heroin, but while my expectations were perhaps a little low, i couldn’t help feeling those of the over-animated people sitting around me were just a tad inflated.

what if we compare the apparently high expectations we have learned to have for things (especially technology) and services, with the pretty low expectations we seem to have of people – not celebrities, you understand, just people.

i have several friends who seem to think it’s probably their fault when prospective partners cheat on them or generally treat them with contempt, and it seems, when probed, that at least part of that response is to do with feeling stupid for thinking that the person concerned might have been civil and considerate and honest.

i love to hate that infuriating programme on TV with the page-three girl, fat magician and other one, who go round ripping people off, ruining their day/holiday and making them cry, for fun and in order to teach us all that if we get conned or plain mugged, it’s at least partly our own stupid fault.

no. it’s not. at least not to any extent that’s worth seriously considering. yes, in practical terms it’s good to know what to look out for and to be aware of some simple measures to take to decrease the chances of your being caught up in something like that, but if you are, then the part of the blame that’s worth thinking and talking about lies wholly on the selfish bastarding thieves who did it. it’s basically the same argument as the one that says women who wear short skirts should really have expected to have been groped, or worse.

people can and should be good. we are capable of truly amazing things. no matter how bad things may seem, history strongly and repeatedly suggests that the momentum created by people acting together for good is an almost unstoppable and all-conquering force. the reason it doesn’t happen that often is probably something to do with how lazy we all are about learning the lessons of history and not listening to people who want to swap their promise of good news highlighted against a background of general despair, for our money, and how intent we all seem to be on expecting very little more than the worse of each other.

regardless of what the advertising industry constantly tells us, we really aren’t entitled to all that much when it comes to luxuries, goods and services. it’s no-one’s moral duty to make sure my journey or stay or day is completely perfect. the world is not a terrible place filled with bad people because my steak is a little over-cooked, or there was a long queue, or you’re somehow not going to get everything you’d expected.

however, it IS our moral duty to regard each other ethically and justly. we don’t do it, because if we did Capitalism wouldn’t work – and that’s what gives all us rich people with blogs all the good stuff we like – but we should. it IS proper for us to have concern for each other, to try not to hurt each other, to be compassionate and also to expect that of others in return.

so, my proposal is this: why don’t we all try to lower our expectations and deflate our sense of entitlement when it comes to stuff, and do the opposite with regard to people. instead of throwing our energies into letters to First Capital Connect about that overcrowded train, or Costa about that tepid flat white, let’s remind the people around us and in the media spotlight that we expect more from them in terms of the effort they put into being a good human being, and also that we would like them to do the same for us.

this way, maybe we can all help each other to be better people, and while some flights will still happen without the soothing ability to watch Knight and Day, Final Destination or United 93, and some of the near-miraculous TVs on trains might sometimes malfunction, we might actually regain a little of our dignity, humanity and hope.

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