I’m in the process of hiring in a service from an external supplier. I’ll not say what the supplier is for reasons that will be apparent but it’s caused me to make an observation. I may be wrong in my observation but I’ll let you decide.
On phoning the reception I was told that I’d be put through to the woman’s voicemail as she was not immediately available. I asked for her name before I was put through as I often forget to ask for a name in an introductory conversation and end up putting the phone down without any record of who I’ve spoken to. Now bear in mind that this is a service where I’m likely to be paying a four figure fee so I expect to do business on some sort of professional basis. However I was told that the company have a “no names policy on reception.” Reluctantly I left a message and made my note of the company name with no idea of who I needed to chase if I have to call back. That, in itself, may be a factor in my decision of which supplier I choose to do business with.


Of course I understand why they have this policy. I’m guessing that they are concerned about weirdoes, stalkers, hawkers, all sorts of undesirables and general ne’er-do-wells. I understand that there are risks in the modern world but I wonder if there is a parallel here. The common comparison when we talk about risk management is often that of crossing the road. “Of course we take a risk every time we cross the road but we don’t stop crossing the road do we.” Well actually we did experiment with not crossing the road and since then we’ve seen the consequences of that experiment.
In the nineteen sixties, as traffic and pollution began to increase, we started to experiment with urban planning schemes. We saw pedestrian precincts, elevated walkways to remove people from traffic, and all sorts of great ideas to mitigate the risk of people and traffic being in the same environment. But what has been the result of those mitigations thirty years later? Housing estates with pedestrianized centres have become empty soulless places that people scurry through as quickly as possible, raised walkways have become muggers’ paradises and pedestrian shopping precincts have become dangerous places to walk once all the shops have closed. In many situations it’s even lead to the total separation of cars from people that has spiralled into the horrors of urban motorways running right past peoples’ homes while pedestrians are reduced to subterranean dwellers in tunnel complexes beneath while the pollution it was supposed to resolve has increased consequentially


Of course protecting ourselves from stalkers and ne’er-do-wells is important. I’ve personally been the target of someone using the anonymity of the Internet to get information out of me and it was a horrible experience. But we have to ask, as we build further walls around ourselves, what will be the consequence of this increased security? If we want to cross the road safely perhaps we should remember to look both ways, judge the danger and speed of the traffic, in short train ourselves to deal with the new dangers. Where those dangers can’t be mitigated install crossing points. In the same way, if we are concerned that we don’t trust every individual who phones reception perhaps there are ways we can manage those new relationships rather than moving towards a situation where we are more cut off from each other than ever before.