SOME of my best friends are Indian.
At least I think they are, since I have never met any of them. They certainly sound Indian and their attitude to life and its travails is that which one associates with Buddha.
"Please calm down, Mr Taylor," they say, whenever they sense me becoming agitated. "I promise you that in half an hour all of your problems will be solved. Now how can I help you today?"
Over the past weekend I spoke at several times at length to various Indian friends, the occasion being the foolhardy purchase of a new laptop. It came with a leaflet on whose cover was the word "hello". Inside there was a minimum of detail, which is why I needed to contact my Indian chum who, though he was patience personified, had trouble diagnosing why I could not retrieve my email.
At one point he asked me to turn the laptop over and read out its serial number. I told him that I couldn't see any such number. "Trust me Mr Taylor there is one, just look a little closer." As ever, he was right and, with the aid of a magnifying glass, I was able to relay the information to him. But that, alas, did not solve all of my problems. My friend was nonplussed and put the blame not on the manufacturer, whose representative he was, but my server, whom he implored me to call.
By now you're doubtless feeling like I did, which was engulfed with boredom and frustration and pointless fury. If nothing else, computers have the uncanny ability to make us feel impotent and stupid.
Unversed in their jargon and unable to remember at the drop of a pin every password we've ever selected, we become pawns in a game over which we have no control. All we want them to do is what we've long been promised, which is make our teeming lives a teensy bit easier.
Try telling that to the tens of thousands of Royal Bank of Scotland customers who, like me, were encouraged to adopt online banking and who for the past several days have been left in financial limbo, not knowing whether their savings are secure and when, if ever, normality will be restored.
Normality, of course, is what we all crave. Most of us don't ask much of our banks. We'd like them to keep our money safe until such time that we need to withdraw it. If they can see their way to giving us some interest that would be dandy. It's also useful if they can set up standing orders. How many megabytes do you need for that?
I came reluctantly to online banking, as I do to anything more sophisticated than a pen and a piece of paper. I was assured that it would give me total control of my finances and might make me an extra pound or two. Moreover, at the caress of a mouse I would be able to move millions from one account to another, thereby "maximising my assets".
The way it was portrayed – by a young man who three months previously had been working as a travel agent – I would be on a level playing field with Warren Buffett and Eddie George. At any hour of the day or night I could wheel and deal from my cell in East Lothian as if I were actually in Wall Street.
Whether or not I believed such poppycock is immaterial. Like a lot of people I felt I had no option. Apart from anything else, as the erstwhile travel agent told me, I'd be helping save the planet by eschewing paper. That the bank by now looked more like a betting shop than a safe haven ought to have set alarm bells ringing.
Over the past few years I've learned that online banking is simply a clever ruse by the banks to push all responsibility on to its customers who are given little choice but to take it or leave it.
One day in the not too distant future, I fear, we will visit cash points and find them as responsive as fruit machines, the social consequences of which do not bear thinking about.
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