I often meet people, who having heard about the service sector domination of the economy (it is estimated that 70% of all wage earners work in the service sector, as opposed to manufacturing or such things as agriculture, fishing, and mining) wonder why “service” is so lousy in the U.S. My wife happily quotes a comment she read at some time, that in England service is a tradition, in Japan it is an honor, and in the U.S. it is an insult. But such comments and reactions are based on the belief that service is about helping ordinary people through the day, not running a derivatives firm on Wall Street.
I have an unabridged Webster dictionary, which I love. It has two thousand and some pages of very fine print (three columns per page, ten words per line in each column), and I love it partly because of the amazing amount of effort that had to go into compiling it. But also, because it contains the common meanings of words, and these days we seem to be happily trying to re-define words to fit our contemporary needs. This dictionary contains almost two columns under service, and almost 50 definitions. The definitions in the first half column do in fact refer to people helping people. Only in the middle does one come across such things as “useful labor that does not produce a tangible commodity”. Here we move into the economic realm. But I think most people consider service to be help from other people, whether it be in person, in manuals, on the internet, or whatever. And I agree we could do much better.
Without help, we tend to buy the cheapest product, which may be of the lowest quality. I notice when I shop for tools with a friend who has spent his life as a mechanic, I spend more money and get better stuff. I no longer buy the cheapest house paint, because I don’t like to paint the house that often. The internet is becoming less trustworthy as it becomes more commercial, so I have switched to asking house-painters about paint quality. It would be better if I could trust sales people in paint stores to give me the straight poop. Somehow they are all convinced that their paint is the best. I bought a combination (always risky) toaster oven-toaster a while ago and it is a disaster, even though the sales person raved about it. In retrospect, he probably wanted me to buy it and knew nothing about it.
Higher quality requires more informed and honest information about products. It doesn’t have to come from personal contact, but personal contact is nice, and would make a lot of jobs.