Stockely House lifts and the transformation of government

Waiting a very long time for a lift to return me to real life from the e-Government Unit eyrie in Stockley House left a bit of time for reflection.

Stockley House lifts have no controls on the inside:  you choose which floor you want to go to from the outside, then a fiendishly clever journey optimisation engine computes the best allocation of journeys to lifts to ensure that everybody waiting gets from where they are to where they want to be as swiftly as possible.

The result is, of course, that it looks modern and glitzy, the user interface is weird (everybody pushes the button at least twice, because there is no feedback), you end up waiting three times as long as for an unintelligent lift, once you get in you can’t change your mind about where you are going, and the main topic of conversation is how much worse the service is.

The parallels with the e-government agenda are quite remarkable.

Theoretically (maybe actually) the idea is that you wait longer, but then arrive more quickly.  But psychologically, the wait and the perceived loss of control have the effect that everybody hates it anyway.

None of this is new of course.  The Hitchhiker’s Guide had it covered over 25 years ago:

It should be explained at this point that modern elevators are strange and complex entities. The ancient electric winch and maximum capacity eight persons jobs bear as much relation to a Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Happy Vertical People Transporter as a packet of peanuts does to the entire west wing of the Sirian State Mental Hospital.

This is because they operate on the entirely unlikely principle of defocused temporal perception, a curious system which enables the elevator to be on the right floor to pick you up even before you knew you wanted it, thus eliminating all the tedious chatting, relaxing and making friends that people were previously forced to do whilst waiting for elevators.

Not unnaturally, many lifts imbued with intelligence and precognition became terribly frustrated with the mindless business of going up or down, experimented briefly with the notion of going sideways, as a sort of existential protest, demanded participation in the decision making process, and finally took to sulking in basements.