Hey, I just realised that my other blog was also being sent to FaceBook without it being differentiated from this one, so everyone was being inundated by my irrelevant ramblings on music. Sorry, I have disconnected it and those who are bored enough can read the music blog on WordPress from time to time. The notifications will now only be for the general blog.
Some reasons why NZ society works:
1. “The Internet”. Yep it is totally pervasive here. Everyone is connected and even Joe, the guy who mows the lawn, has a website with e-commerce. When you phone a store or an organisation and ask them questions, they politely respond, but also say (quite pointedly) “That information is on our website, sir.” One is expected to do one’s homework and know what is going on at all times and the information is always on the web. Access is everywhere, very fast and usually dirt cheap. Kids really don’t bother too much with cell phones, but everyone has a tablet or a netbook.
2. Information. If there is anything that could be interesting, useful, dangerous, etc. there is a website about it. Because they have the communication tools they use them and they pay someone to ensure that all information is up to date all the time. It is considered a disgrace to have out-dated information. Information is also power. Everyone knows what is going on all the time on matters related to key areas which affect their lives: the petrol price, key commodity prices, currencies, property trends, balance of payments, interest rates. Because there is very little news the media can afford to go into depth and scratch beneath the surface. The media therefore become less of a watchdog and more of an information service – How does the price of milk affect you! Plus four graphics showing what the impact is on farmers, parents, corporates and government (!) So just by reading the daily press people are deeply aware of the factors affecting their lives.
3. Action. So you have access to the information, the information is accurate and current; your duty now is to act upon it. And that’s what people do. There is national outrage when politicians even consider stepping over the line (and sometimes it can be a very fine line). One error of judgement, one unconsidered act and all hell breaks loose. Recently a person was arrested for looting the day after the Christchurch earthquake. He had stolen a light fitting and two light bulbs from a destroyed home. Cops beat him up and he faced the unbridled wrath of the nation who was forming a verbal lynch mob fuelled by the media. It later turns out he suffers from a mental disorder (a type of autism plus OCD) that compels him to steal lights and bulbs. All of a sudden the mob changed direction and focused on the cops who had (until that morning) been praised for their vigilance. So consumer activism is strong and people are very careful before making any product, any claim, anything at all. There is also the blessing/curse of comparative advertising, so it is completely OK to say that cool drink X has half the sugar of Coke and fewer additives. It is used frequently and fairly derisively too.
4. Sponsorship. If you really believe in something put your money behind it. And this includes government. They want to save electricity so they sponsor home insulation – you get a discount for installing pink stuff in your roof. They want to encourage saving for pensions so they subsidise pension schemes and oblige all employers to contribute to their employees’ provident fund (it is obligatory). There are also relatively few provident fund schemes and they are scrutinised publicly, frequently and microscopically. The government pension is about $1,345 (R7,400) per month per person – they try to ensure that you get 66% of your final after-tax income. Many people feel they can survive on this and don’t need to save more. Bear in mind that the minimum monthly wage is $2,000 (R11,000) pre-tax. So with sponsorship one can get a lot more done than with threats.
5. Enforcement. I don’t need to dwell on this too much because as you all know for every conceivable action there is a law and at least four police officers who enforce it. The people are very law-abiding to begin with, but just in case they step out of line there are police everywhere (plain clothes & regular) in police cars and unmarked cars ready to pounce. And they don’t take bribes. And they are friendly, but firm. We are eagerly awaiting the anti-farting legislation currently being hotly debated in parliament. They probably experience the brunt of it…
6. Customer centricity. Nice fancy word, but it means that in practice everyone thinks about what would be best for their customers, peers, stakeholders as well as for their business. In many cases one finds that extra care, extra expense, extra effort has been taken to make things easier and better – it is not a “bare-minimum” society. Small example: the other day at Sky City we walked out of the car park (of which there are 5 layers and several sections – like ORT parking) and found this little ticket next to the lift with a notice saying “please take one”. Throughout the complex there are very clear signs about where to find the lifts and how to get back to the car parks. It costs money to print and maintain these little pieces of paper, but how much does it save the customer walking around for hours trying to re-orientate themselves? Clever buggers.
7. Preparedness. (Don’t worry, getting close to the end of the sermon). Everyone is given all the information and the opportunity to take care of themselves. Several of you have asked about emergency procedures in the event of a catastrophe such as an earthquake. Well, this is where all 5 point I have mentioned come together. First there are many websites – mostly official, some NGOs (and more, and more, and more) and some private ones – dealing with all the imaginable natural disasters likely to befall citizens of the country. It is clear that Auckland is unlikely to experience an earthquake. More likely is a tropical storm (hurricane) or a volcanic eruption (although the last one here was 600 years ago – and that resulted in Rangitoto Island which we see in the bay each morning.)
In addition to the warnings there are hundreds of brochures, websites, and services which offer advice for dealing with emergencies. The focus (to answer Sally’s question) is not really dealing with the emergency, but rather surviving for the days after it has hit. It is assumed that one’s house would be ruined, that electricity and water will be cut off, that it would be mid-winter and very wet. From here everyone has a survival list and items on the list (like tents, sleeping bags, first-aid kits, torches … and about 30 items more) are readily available from all stores – even supermarkets. Remember this is a nation that goes hiking and camping every moment that they can’t be on the water or in the sea, so survival equipment is plentiful and reasonably cheap. In an emergency I suspect most Aucklanders will be able to survive for about 3 days. Jules and I are almost completely set up – everything is packed in bags, labelled, tested and ready. We just need to buy a few more items then we’ll be set for an earthquake or a hiking trip – whichever may be more traumatic!
But we are also sure that the warning systems will be brilliant – that we will have at least three days warning of a hurricane or a volcano because so many resources are dedicated to monitoring these things. Jules is looking forward to it because one of the items on the emergency list is chocolate bars – and they expire after 6 months and need to be replenished. She has offered to help with this.