A month is a long time in retail
Few people can have predicted the UK's brief but violent descent into civil unrest last month but it's good to know that even in these dark days the spark of innovation burns brightly (if somewhat unconvincingly), writes Basement Jack.
Kaiser Chiefs aside, tell me honestly, did anyone else predict a riot? Before zipping off to the South of France for some scarcely earned R&R there was little indication that the country was set to be overrun by hundreds of opportunist morons set on doing some robbing and yobbing. Once the blue touch-paper was lit, however, it was inevitable that there would also be an appearance of the rent-a-mob, pseudo-anarchist bell-ends of the sort that turned the student fees protest into such a chaotic mess. But there they all were, smashing shops, destroying livelihoods in the name of nothing whatsoever.
Arguably scarier than the riots themselves were the brief vox-pop interviews with some of the looters; the blank-eyed, semi-coherent justifications of their actions were quite chilling. One particular interview with a whey-faced knuckle-dragger from Manchester stuck with me. He was grunting something about foreign workers coming in and taking all the jobs (the obvious thing to do in these cases is burn out shops evidently) but you could see from the semi-smirk that he really didn't believe his own nonsense. He was clearly unhappy with his lot and saw and opportunity to do some damage, an opportunity grasped with some relish. It's strange to see people like this anywhere outside of a gritty TV drama (or BNP meeting). It's unsettling to know people like him are out there, people who have neither the wit nor the compassion to be able to register how their actions affect others. But they're out there...and in considerable numbers.
With calling in Jack Bauer probably out of the question, maybe it's time to re-introduce forced conscription (i.e. make them join the army)? An idea perhaps a touch right of centre perhaps but you can't deny there's a pleasing sense of justice to it and it kills several birds with one stone. You would get these dregs off the streets, the warm embrace of armed forces training might knock a few of the rough edges from them (a few teeth would be ok too), they'd be gainfully employed rather than benefit dependent and they might be able to direct some of that aggression more positively...
Any road up, it had not been the intention to give the riots or rioters anything like this amount of ink, but they do provide an interesting background for a story that drifted across the desk just recently. It appears that the good folk of Sainsbury's are trialling trolleys with iPad docks...for why exactly, is not entirely clear...although apparently it is something to do with watching sport in the shops.
Granted I am among those yet to be entirely convinced that the iPad is anything other than the emperor's new gadget. Other than the fact there's a 'buzz' about the tablet format making it a thing for those 'in the know' to have, I don't really get the appeal of an iPad. It's not really a games machine in an Xbox/Wii sense, it's definitely not a laptop as such, I'm pretty sure it's not a phone (despite its sharing its good looks with its smaller cousin)...I just don't get it. What is it other than beautifully packaged? Or is that enough?
In any event the iPad is undeniably caught up in the current technological zeitgeist (forgive me for using that word) along with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and all that. And maybe that is precisely why Sainsbury's are giving it a go...a positive news story bringing with it a certain amount of associated cool, what's not to like? The 'iTrolley' as I'm sure it won't be called is actually the fruit of collaboration between the supermarket and satellite broadcaster Sky. In fact it was Sky's idea, as a vehicle for promoting its new Sky Go service, which allows anyone with a Sky subscription to watch its sport and news channels on mobile devices such as iPads.
The surrounding marketing guff centred on folk being able to watch their favourite sport while out doing the weekly shop...it will certainly eliminate the need for any of that irritating 'talking' business. You can just imagine other interested shoppers following the iPad-enabled trolley around the store like some presidential motorcade...or worse still you'd have shoppers gathered around the iPad as though at a drive-in cinema blocking the progress of others and nipping across the store to pick up some tinnies and tubes of Pringles.
To be fair to Sainsbury's this is only a trial in a single store - it can't hurt to try these things out. But as for a national roll-out, I can't really see it. Are shoppers the length of the country really going to bring their precious box of microchips out with them while they're buying oven chips? With all that civil unrest there are those who might be forgiven for thinking that this would be rather akin to painting a great big target on their backs - particularly for those customers in slightly less salubrious areas. It could be a magnet for thieving little scrotes.
In which event, would there be a partial roll-out of the iPad docks to those stores in areas deemed demographically appropriate? This is pretty dodgy territory; if your local store did not plan to have the iTrolley would you as a customer not infer that Sainsbury's thinks your area is too crappy? There are those who might get a teensy bit miffed at that.
For those of you, who are, like me, worried about trolley collisions, don't panic. The designers have installed a proximity sensor on the cart so if you get so engrossed in what you're watching that you to forget to watch where you're going it will emit a warning beep if you get too close to other shoppers. Of course that's not going to get at all annoying on a busy Saturday afternoon in a packed supermarket when punters are already irritable at having to squeeze down crowded aisles littered with stationary trolleys. It's just what you need to make the experience that much nicer - having some smug git with the latest piece of designer technology beeping at you in the frozen foods section. I predict another bloody riot.