Torrential Tannoys – can’t we just have a quiet life?

They say life imitates art, and one area I think this is true is in the growing number of speakers blasting out banal “information” tannoys. If you think of any fiction set in the future with some controlling regime (1984, Brave New World, Blakes 7), there are droning announcements blighting the lives of the citizens as they try to go about their daily business.

Anyone who uses public transport in the UK should be able to relate to this – the never-ending torrent of automated announcements that seem to bury useful information (like which station is next) in a stream of verbose drivel (to mind the gap, take our stuff with us, and remember to breathe).

Is “tannoy” really a portmanteau of “to annoy”?

The automated announcements (done using a device known as a DVA – Digital Voice Announcer) are among the worst, with messages recorded in a pompous tone, using waffly language:

“The next station is blah-Please mind the gap between the platform and the train-Please remember to take your belongings with you when leaving the train-Please do not leave unattended items of luggage in the train or on the station.”

Every few minutes.

I recently heard this classic delivered by an on-train DVA:

“Would customers please note that a full ticket examination is about to take place. All customers must have their tickets and passes ready for inspection.”

What ever happened to good old “Tickets please!”?

(We’ll gloss over the fact that the poor incarcerated punter is being referred to as a “customer” for the time being. That’s a different rant.)

Oh, and of course, all the scrotes without a ticket used this as a warning to bail out at the first opportunity or hide in the toilets.

As well as the classic “It is forbidden (!) to cycle, skateboard or rooooolerblade…”, with it being half-term this week, in South East London we also get this chestnut of almost Orwellian mind-control, spoken by an “authoritative” (or should that authoritarian?) male voice:

“Parents and guardians are reminded that station can be a dangerous place. Trains can pass through at high speed without warning. When on the station, you must ensure children are supervised at all times.”

I won’t even start on how the automated system fails the passenger during times when it’s needed most, such as during periods of heavy disruption. The automatics can deal with simple things like basic late running, but aren’t designed to cope with seriously non-standard operations. The information becomes increasingly unreliable or just downright wrong.

Bit, it’s not just computerised voices driving me mad. Anyone who has travelled with East Coast will know this verbal diarrhoea isn’t just limited to automated announcements. East Coast (and their forbears, NXEC and GNER) have, over the years, perfected the mind-control techniques required to make their humans working on the train talk in the same pompous, bombastic, patronising way as the disembodied voices embedded in the DVA at the station.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the main purpose of these systems is no longer to convey useful information, but to blight our journeys with noise nuisance and permit the train operator to hector the travelling public at every opportunity.

No wonder people often switch off to them. I just wish I could. I’m pretty noise sensitive as a person, and attentive by nature. It means I can’t simply “shut them out” in my head, and just merge them into the background of white noise.

The train companies say that they are “required by EU law” to provide information about the train’s journey, and to comply with “accessibility legislature”. I call bullshit on this being the reason, simply because nowhere else in Europe is as tannoy crazed as the UK seems to be. While I’m sure there is some sort of Brussels buffoonery that exists, it’s all down to how it’s been interpreted, and I suspect whoever did our interpretation did a bad job… or was on work experience.

Nowhere I’ve been in Europe seems to bombard their passengers to the extent the UK’s transport system does, and it’s a good job too. If the Stockholm Tunnelbana used verbose flowery language (anything more complex than “Next station…”) in Swedish I’d be buggered.

Is there no argument for keeping it simple…

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