User story: the Postmistress and her Lumia

User story: the Postmistress and her Lumia

It speaks to the modest success of Windows Phone that to see one in the wild still feels rare.

I walked into the local Post Office the other day and, amid the clutter of parcels behind the counter, there it was: a Lumia 925 in grey. It belonged, I presume, to the Postmistress serving customers. She was the only member of staff in this small branch.

The phone was one of the models with the Lumia ‘Glance Screen’ feature, capable of displaying an ‘always on’ clock and notifications, but the OLED panel of this particular device remained blank. Perhaps she wasn’t aware of the feature or perhaps it had been idle long enough to drop into power saving mode?

The shop itself was rather more than just a Post Office. The cramped floor space and walls were hung with an eclectic collection of vinyl records, from Elvis to Iron Maiden – while an old turntable played a jazz album from the 1950s. All the records were for sale and you could browse them while queuing for the Post Office counter service.

The effect of all those records was so distinctive and unexpected, it made the Post Office branding seem incongruous amid the interior time warp of a 1970s record store. It must have been the Post Office services which generated the bulk of the revenue, but the vinyl supplied the atmosphere, reflecting the passion of an eccentric shop owner in a town full of quirky independent stores like this.

A British Post Office is a busy place, even in a small town like this. I was there to collect a parcel, ordered off the web, but returned because no one was home that day to sign for it. The other customers had different reasons: buying foreign currency for a holiday, posting letters abroad and having forms stamped.

When, during this stream of requests, did the lady behind the counter have time to turn to her Lumia?

I found myself wondering whether it was linked to her secondary occupation looking after the vinyl record business? It’s not uncommon for these small town shops to drive more of their revenue through their eBay stores than their physical locations. Perhaps it was there to alert her to eBay bids or to be checked when she had a spare moment to look at sales enquiries?

To do so on a laptop, or even a tablet, would have felt wrong in a Post Office. Despite the records dominating the decor, in the minds of most of the customers, the function of this place was still to serve as a Post Office. In the UK, Post Office managers hold a certain position in society – especially in small towns and villages – mainly by virtue of knowing everybody and being the gate keeper to essential life services, from paying out pensions, to stamping savings books, to holding mail and checking passport applications. However, her Lumia was discrete enough – personal enough – that to be seen glancing at it would not have offended a customer in the same way as the larger screen of a PC.

However, even with this kind of personal device, could she have done this in a larger, city centre branch, where there would have been other staff casting a critical eye? It is hard to imagine the Post Office officially allowing employees to have access to their own devices while working. Yet here it was one of the digital tools which enabled her to run such a charming and unusual place, characteristics the locals no doubt value and balance a dual role.

It made me hope all the more that she discovered the Lumia Glance Screen, which could have subtly alerted her to notifications in a quiet, discrete way.

Working at the cutting edge of digital, where each new product release is weighed on the minutiae of its specifications and ranked against competitors, it is easy to forget the compelling underlying benefits any and all smartphones can deliver. These benefits may transform individuals’ productivity, enabling them to learn new skills or start new businesses in the idle moments of their ‘day jobs’. This promotes career mobility, a virtue perhaps most keenly felt in lower paying roles or parts of the world where commercial opportunity is scarce.

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