I have an affliction which strikes many academics. I read things indiscriminately if they are put before me, whether they are the conditions of sale for a theatre ticket, the ingredients on a tin of baked beans, or the small print on a train timetable even if I don't intend to catch that train.
English: dripping tap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The problem is that I am not content with just reading floods of information, I also try make sense of it, which is where my puzzlement usually starts. But of all the notices that I read obsessively, the ones that really get to me are the ones in hotel rooms where they invite me to help save the planet (I thought that was Superman's job), and subliminally, help save my very soul. You know the ones; such as "help us save precious water by asking us to wash your towels less" (I read this in a hotel in Scotland; In Scotland? Haven't you noticed that it rains what seems like 380 days a year in Scotland, and they actually want us to save the stuff? Whatever genius thought that one up should be sent to the Sahara to educate the Bedouins on the importance of saving sand).
Or how about the hotel in Iceland that solemnly advised me to help us save energy by asking them to wash my towels less. Iceland! One of the most energy-abundant nations on the planet with resources for hydro-electric, geothermal, wind and tidal power, all of them naturally endowed and all environmentally friendly. Save those resources? On a three-day break to Iceland I spent most of my time trying to hide from them.
But the one that nearly (nearly but not quite) gets to the nub of the matter was the hotel in Oban (again Scotland) that implored me "help us save water and so help us reduce your hotel bills".
OK, now we are talking money, but whose money? Try going up to reception and asking; "excuse me, I have just used the same towels all week ... can I get a refund on my hotel bill?"
An economist with a subversive streak might suggest an alternative notice for a hotel room; "Please help us save water by turning on all your taps whenever you want or feel the need. Tell your friends to do the same. Get your friends' friends to do the same. In time, water will become a scarcer and more expensive resource. Its price will rise. This will create incentives to invest in new technology and infrastructure, water will become more abundant and its price will fall. You might even become so innovative in water-saving technology that you can offer to export it to help deal with other's water scarcity problems, just as one Near-eastern country is currently offering to California to help fix its drought issues. Problems solved".
Two things I know for sure: this makes more sense at least compared to some of the notices that I read on hotel walls; but also if you ever see such a notice on a hotel wall, you will know I have been there before you...
(Professor Neil Kay, EBS senior mentor, is currently working at the University of California, Berkeley as the guest of the Institute for Business Innovation there ... and travelling extensively)