Machines can’t make heartfelt apologies – only people can

Written by Quietroom
Image of a load of megaphones, an illustration on our blog about making heartfelt apologies.

If you talk to everyone at once, you risk being heard by no-one. But if you talk with just one person in mind, more people will hear you than you’d think.

Every morning at 8:09am, as the train I take to work rolls into the station, a recorded message is played. You’ll notice that I’m using the passive voice there: “a recorded message is played”. I don’t know who plays it. Like most disembodied voices that play without an immediate reason, it’s just sort of… there.

The voice says:
24-hour CCTV is in operation throughout this station for the purposes of security and safety management.

Here’s why it’s a weak message.

It’s full of abstract nouns. These are words that stand for intangible things, like ‘security management’ or cameras being ‘in operation’, rather than concrete things, like ‘filming the station platform to help keep it free from graffiti’. A message that ignores tangible, physical objects points at everything and nothing, so it feels hypothetical.

Worse, it’s got no people in it. Whose security is being managed — the company’s or the passengers’? And whose safety? A message that ignores people plays to everyone and no-one, so it feels vague.

When your message feels vague and hypothetical, it starts to feel like a formality — something you’re saying because someone somewhere said you had to, or because it’s ‘just the sort of thing we do’. But if your message is a formality, you’re basically inviting people to ignore it.

And so that recorded voice keeps talking, regardless of who’s standing on the station platform: a warning maybe to protect property and maybe to protect people, maybe to dissuade criminals and maybe to reassure the public.

A message broadcast unhelpfully wide.

No wonder we tune it out.