This is a first-world story. It is, in fact, such a first-world story that there are parts of the first world that will look at it with derision. Indeed, if the first world had a phrase for dismissing the first-world problems that even it thinks are trivial, it would apply at this point. It is, in short, the story of my Ocado delivery.
I know how this plays out. Times are tough. Even now, some online readers are zipping down to the comments section to lambast the FT for giving space to this when there are people in some parts of the country having to go without za’atar.
Today, about 15 per cent of UK shoppers use online supermarket delivery services and every single one of them has had their day blighted by the omission of the key ingredient for lunch, the substitution of baked beans for cannellini beans or, the true apocalypse, the sudden cancellation of their delivery. There is so much scope for aggravation, even more so as we near the festive season and the only way to guarantee yourself a Christmas delivery slot is to have booked it before the crucifixion.
(Talking of the end of the world, the sense of desolation that accompanied last weekend’s disaster has left me wondering if I possess the life skills to survive in the post-apocalyptic dystopia, the one that probably follows the final Thunberg government.)
Anyway, without wishing to dwell on the details, last week’s dispatch was cancelled five minutes before the end of the delivery window. Efforts to arrange a new time required a trade-off between messing up the rest of the weekend or not getting our shopping.
There was, of course, a third option. If we couldn’t agree a new time, then patently we had to show them by heading off to Sainsbury’s and perhaps sending images to Ocado HQ to rub their noses in it. I’m thinking Pretty Woman-style revenge here, with me standing like Julia Roberts, brandishing a joint of beef, and saying, “Remember when you failed to serve me yesterday? Big mistake! Big! Huge!” But we weren’t that desperate.
And there was the nuclear option of briefly dumping Ocado as I did a decade ago before concluding there was no real difference. The one advantage of not mattering to a company is it doesn’t notice when you slink back.
My point is not to use this privileged space to dump on Ocado. It is to reflect on how we became people for whom a minor mishap was converted into a household disaster. My wife spent Sunday composing furious missives, which I then had to tone down and send under my own name, as I am the account holder.
This is the peril of the convenience life, the Alexa existence. Our threshold for disruption has become pathetically low. Why cook a meal when you can order a takeaway? Why collect that takeaway when it can be delivered? Why use a remote when Alexa can switch channels? In Ukraine, people are coping without power or running water. If they had our threshold for inconvenience, Putin would already be in Kyiv.
Somehow, this is a corollary to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Once you move beyond real struggle — somewhere between self-actualisation and transcendence — you hit the pyramid of decrepitude, a pecking order of vexation that accompanies tiresome but manageable problems. These would not include serious illness, losing your job or any recognised adversity.
This hierarchy starts with mundane but meaningful misfortunes — pranging your car, a leak in the spare room or living anywhere that forces you to rely on Avanti trains — and works up to ever less terrible problems: running out of batteries for the remote; your cleaner falling ill one week; and, of course, supermarket delivery issues. The more trivial the problem, the harder you struggle to keep it in perspective.
With only a middling level of affluence, our brains have been rewired by online service to believe that everything need be no trouble. The convenience culture has raised nuisance to the level of disaster. As for our lost shop, we changed our plans, took a new delivery slot and grumbled at the disruption. It was the least inconvenient solution.
Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley and email him at [email protected]
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