The Big Disconnect

You know what I absolutely hate? ItÂ's when people use the phrase, "if thereÂ's any one so-and-so it would beÂ"…" Talk about a cop-out nonsense thing to say! Yet, it permeates the liquor laced discussions of a thousand barrooms as the smell of pig excrement permeates a farmerÂ's overalls. You canÂ't enter a hypothetical conversation without tripping over the phrase like a skateboard on a staircase. If thereÂ's any one great mystery to the universe it would be how it began? If thereÂ's any one law of nature itÂ's kill or be killed. If thereÂ's any one great ice-cream flavor itÂ's chocolate. If thereÂ's any one thing IÂ'd definitely not stick up my nose itÂ's a wad of soiled monkey hair. And so on.

ItÂ's such a cliché, and a self defeating one at that. It seems to me that the statement, considering its basically flawed premise, demands use of the subjunctive instead of indicative, perhaps mandated by law upon pain of being poked with sticks. And rightly so, as reality is literally overflowing with complexity and nuance. Virtually no situation exists where there is one absolutely definitive point of factuality when it comes to this kind of sophistic single-mindedness. There is no one great mystery of the universe, or law of nature, and I could expound a near infinite litany of things I really wouldnÂ't stick up my nose.

That said, if thereÂ's any one paradox of humanity itÂ's the conflict between our inherent selfishness and our reliance on community. Seriously, I have no shame.

Allow me to highlight by anecdote and let us never speak of that intro again. I went to the Home Depot recently to feel insecure about my worth as a man. Actually I went for some paint and some brushes, but while walking around I watched little girls hauling around hammers and two-by-fours, speaking among one another of mitre saws. Meanwhile, I seriously considered attending the How to Stir Paint seminar. Home Depot always makes me feel this way as all the individual pieces necessary to complete any home project fill dozens of aisles taunting me from lofty shelves. It is as though they say, Â"˜you could make great things with me, a door hinge, but you canÂ't even bake a chocolate cake without racking up a half-dozen building code violations.Â' Then they laugh and laugh as I ball myself into a fetal position holding my ears and weeping until security rolls me away. So, I donÂ't go to Home Depot very often.

This all has nothing to do with my point. My point begins actually in the checkout lane, where register after register is manned by stone faced employees oozing all the warmth of a snowball. I hate checkout lanes; I honestly do. First, there are never enough of them open. Second the person in front of you always has expired coupons and is writing a check without identification. And, third, the clerk canÂ't get through seven items without calling for a manager to come tell him if the green stuff is Endive or Parsley. Those are only a few of my complaints. So when Home Depot implemented their self-checkout lanes I nearly uncurled from my fetal position and even stopped weeping for a moment.

Verily I tripped through the self-checkout process, a song in my heart and smile pasted on my face. I swiped my card with a flourish, and zipped item after item over the scanner certain that a blue-bird would perch lightly on my shoulder and twitter its gay song in my ear. With nary a hassle to be found I exchanged my currency for goods and wandered happily toward the car with no inconvenient human interaction to sully the fine sale. As IÂ've established previously, IÂ'm a man obsessed with efficiency of the mundane, so self-checkout is like a sip of golden nectar under the shade of an antediluvian tree set amid the bliss of the Elysian Fields.

So too is depositing through direct deposits and ATMs. Bypassing the process of having someone else potentially screw up my financial transactions is encouraging on many levels. I watch as I dash through the ATM drive-up lane as I complete my transaction in seconds while people wait in extended lanes as the woman in the GMC asks the teller to send her another pen because this one doesnÂ't work. It literally gives me physical pleasure to leave these Luddites in the dust.

In fact, the more I can just do myself the happier I am – with the notable exclusion of home repair, for which IÂ'm happy to call the Amry Corps of Engineers – and if I can just bypass the process of waiting for someone to get their head and rear wired together long enough to hand me my super-size coke, IÂ'd be a pretty cheerful guy. And why do I long for this universal automation? Partly because those populating the service sector are rarely happy to be there, more often than not making grizzled military commanders seem positively fuzzy by comparison, but more precisely it's because IÂ'm in a perpetual hurry. IÂ'm certainly not alone here.

The real issue with waiting in lines at the bank, the store, the local WendyÂ's, or pretty much anywhere is that I want to get on with what I was doing, even if all I was doing was going to the mall to buy some new socks. Those socks arenÂ't going to buy themselves, and what if theyÂ're out of the socks I like because this yahoo is trying to figure out how many nickels he needs to give me for my thirty-six cents in change? But itÂ's not all about being in a hurry, because even if the actual transaction takes as long or longer, IÂ'm likely to pick automated over interaction. Hell, IÂ'll even pay more!

ShouldnÂ't it be troubling that, as a rule, weÂ're slowly learning that eliminating human interaction in our transactions is a pretty good thing? Not so long ago, recent enough that I remember life when it was such, if you wanted to even know your checking balance you actually had to interact with a teller. If you wanted to buy plane tickets you had to call an airline or a travel agent, and weÂ're talking about a time here when the phone was picked up by humans who did not order you to molest the keypad navigating a maze of numerical options. If you wanted to communicate with others the furthest you could get away from actual human contact in the process was to write a letter, and even then you had to buy the envelopes and stamps from someone. Were things better then? Well, a lot of stuff got screwed up pretty much all the time, mostly because humans were involved on both ends and if thereÂ's any one thing humans are good at [sic] itÂ's screwing things up – though many of them do make a mean gumbo, and that has to count for something. But, it also seemed like, at the time, people didnÂ't bristle quite so much when forced upon one another.

IÂ'm not really looking back on these halcyon days with starry eyes and hazy rose-colored nostalgia, because IÂ'm perfectly happy being efficient and confident that the things I want to get done will get done. But I wonder about the way things have changed, and how we who are so monumentally interested in ourselves will react to the slow technological walls we bring up between one another. There is a day fast approaching where you will be able to do virtually everything you wish without coming into contact with another person; maybe that day is already here. I wonder what we will seem to one another on that day?

Do you, reading this now, know that a person somewhere, flesh and blood and bone, took hours out of a day and put these words down? Does it occur to you that itÂ's not just some digital and entirely anonymous entertainment? When you write in our forums do you think of the names that respond as human? I donÂ't mean to ask if you know it logically - because, well, duh! - but on a more fundamental level. Are these, to you, just words in a void? What is community in the technological age?

Just some thoughts to chew on.

- Elysium


Don't even get me started on the buttheads that work at the Home Despot. If there is any one thing I hate, it is when you come to them with a simple problem ("I need a hose to connect my well-pipe to my garden-hose outlet, just like that one on the wall, but longer") and they waste twenty minutes of your time deconstructing and reinterpreting your questions ("You need what in the who now?? Nah, you need a 3/8" PVC flim flammer, with a bi-directional ubervalve on the shim")

If only I didn't have to deal with these morons...Yet I crave their company.

Seriously, I've found I will bend over backward to keep from talking to someone on the phone. Is that wrong?

I for one am wishy-washy about the whole "People vs automation" process. On one hand I too love to go through the self-checkout at Kroger rather than deal with a cashier, it's just less hassle. On the other hand those "automated cashiers" have taken some jobs away from people meaning that there are more people vying for my job. Far be it for me to wish any ill will on anyone, and I wish everyone had their dream job, but I don't like the idea of me having to be out and about looking for employment because some machine can do someone else's job more efficiently than a 16 year old with a bad attitude.

fill dozens of isles

If there's any one thing you don't see very often, it's a typo from the big man.

One of the things that really gets me connected with the community here is playing games with people and using voice chat. Voices express so much about someone's personality that subconciously I can no longer pretend it's a computer. I have to realize there's another person on the end. Which is really why I wrote GameCalendar. I had a bit of a dry spell and I wanted to get back into things again. To me that meant playing games with people, since that's what gets me interacting with everybody here. The discussions on the forums are great and I really enjoy them, but playing games with people is really talking with them.

Which is another reason I don't read forwards of email. It's not whoever sending it to me actually trying to talk to me, they're just acting like a parrot or a complicated Xerox. I want people to actually email me, not shoot someone else's words out of an electronic cannon and hoping some of it might sound like conversation to me. My parents get angry at me to no end with this stuff and I tell them "Look, if you think it's important talk to me about it over the phone. Then we can actually talk about it." Of course they don't seem to understand but to me it's the self-service checkout thing all over again.

I usually only call on the phone if I have something to say to them and need an answer. I use the internet for anything I can that is routine or mundane. Anything unusual or complex and I usually call them, because I need them to actually listen to my problem and give me an answer. I'm usually disappointed in that, though.

The reason I like self-service checkouts is the same reason I don't read forwards and that I prefer voice chat. I want people to actually talk to me or listen to me, not talk to themselves and let me listen. I don't want to hear someone's parroted script at the checkout. I'd rather hear a machine beep at me. At least then it's beeping for my benefit and not it's own.

To me it's about quality of communication with people, not the fact that it did or did not take place. I want people to actually talk and have a conversation, I welcome that kind of human interaction. People who only talk to me because they have to would just be better off not talking to me, I'll take a machine over that any day.

Those automated check out lanes have a long LONG way to go before they don't suck. Great concept poor implemention. Course are local Albertsons can't even keep enough people on check out duty to man the automated, at peak rush hour there is one or two lanes open at the most, flip a coin to see of the automated lanes are open or not. Course after 45 minutes of standing in line frothing at the mouth they will invariable open one a new lane at the far end of where ever I am, and invite sombody who has been waiting 3 minutes to come on down, but that is how things work :p.
*BLEEP* unauthrized item in bagging area *BLEEP*
Me "Look you POS it's unauthorized, I just scaned it and droped in the dam bag"
*BLEEP* Hostile person at lane 4 security! Security!*BLEEP* Hit escape or other randome button to continue please.*BLEEP*
Me "Argh, ok just take my dam money will ya"
*BLEEP* Unathorized Item in bagging area*BLEEP*
spits out card
Me "*sigh* you would think a huge geek like myself would be able to negotiate this" to my wife who is 5 feet away now getting rung up at a checker.
*BLEEP*You suck, your taking to long loser, clear bagging area and stand asside for next sucker*BLEEP*
Droid clerk "Oh yeah anything that sticks up out a bag or is small seems to make them do that"
Me "I'm told a hammer could fix that"
Droid, Blank look as is fumbles for the security alarm.
And I wonder over to the now 10 person deep line with one working human checker.

If there's any one thing you don't see very often, it's a typo from the big man.

That was no typo! There are many very small islands out there that would be overflowing with Home Depot stock if someone just took the time to put it out there!

Elysium wrote:
If there's any one thing you don't see very often, it's a typo from the big man.

That was no typo! There are many very small islands out there that would be overflowing with Home Depot stock if someone just took the time to put it out there!

Oh sorry, missed that.

I do kinda miss the Full Service Gas Station though when its raining Then again I never liked talking to the people there... just avoiding the rain.

Could be I'm juts lazy too

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If there is one thing to understand from this column, it's that Elysium prefers doing business with his own kind. This, as Elysium admitted to being a robot last night on TS.

No, no. That was Pyro who was the robot.

I was road kill.

Elysium wrote:

Do you, reading this now, know that a person somewhere, flesh and blood and bone, took hours out of a day and put these words down?

It took you hours to write this?

Personally, I love automated checkouts and their ilk. With the occasional exception of a cute supermarket checkout girl, I can do everything that needs doing on my own faster (or at least without pissing myself off).

That, though, is only in regards to menial things. For anything that isn't completely mindless, I generally like talking to people. It's easier to get across complicated or subtle ideas, and it's easier to change your mind in the middle of a transaction. I also generally like people.

Discussing with you folks on the forums provides personality insights, but talking on TeamSpeak really solidifies you as people. It's kinda neat that way - I like everybody I've talked to and it's neat to see you as real people (except Certis and Elysium, who frighten and intimidate me).

That was no typo!

Technically, isn't the phrase "was no" grammatically incorrect? Soemthing about the fact that if there isn't any object you can't use the verb "to be" in front of it? Just a thought...

I prefer as little human contact as I can possibly get, so all these automated thingamajoobies are just dandy for me. My wife always marvels that I "let her in" at all.

That said, I'm very aware of the humanity of everyone, be they flesh in front of me or a digital representation in words or speech. I'd just rather interact with someone I know -- either my family, real friends, or Internet acquiantances -- than with a total stranger, regardless of reason. I have no desire to chit-chat, unless it's about something in which I have great interest.

And the weather or that latest Duke or State game ain't in that category.

Automated Checkouts are great. They are the best thing to hit shopping since the debit card. Why? Simply put, you never have to look a 16 year old female cashier in the eye when you are buying condoms. There are many, many other reasons that they are great, but that one alone puts them over the top.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I have to agree that society seems to be encouraging us to be anti-social. Since I've started working at home, I've discovered the only people I am required to talk to are customers and my wife.

And you can email customers.

So I've been making an effort to spend more time with strangers. Painful as it is, I've taken to going to social functions, getting friends to go out to a bar or movie, calling my mother (*gasp*), etc. more and more. It's horrible, but I think 100% necessary.

I'll be out of the office until April 9th, 2004. I will not be reading your comments until that time. If I were, I am sure I would find them humorous and thought-provoking. If this is an emergency, please dial 1-900-IB2-L337. Thank you.

I hate people with automated "Thank you" scripts in Tribes.
You take effort to repair someone, and immediately there's a "Thank you shihonage" (plays in my head in Stephen Hawking "voice").

Look sh*thead, I just specifically made a human effort to heal YOU, and ...oh f*ck you.
Also, f*ck people who say "gg" instead of "good game" and "tx" instead of "thanks". If you're thankful you should be able to type 4 more letters, asshole.

Technically, isn't the phrase "was no" grammatically incorrect? Soemthing about the fact that if there isn't any object you can't use the verb "to be" in front of it? Just a thought...

Well, a verb that requires an object is, as we all know, a transitive verb. The verb 'to be' is actually a linking verb, which again I'm sure you know, links the subject to a subject complement. Let's get there slowly, shall we:

"The water is hot." This is a grammatically correct sentence because the subject (the water) is linked through the present tense linking verb to the subject complement, which in this case is the adjective hot.

"That is a typo." Here again we have a linking verb connecting the subject to the subject complement, so again it's correct. The inclusion of a negative modifier won't make it incorrect, which leads me to the conclusion that you are sorely misinformed.

However, you've misspelled the word something within the fragment you're trying to pass off as a complete sentence. Glass houses my young apprentice.

However, you've misspelled the word something within the fragment you're trying to pass off as a complete sentence. Glass houses my young apprentice.

Uh oh, we've passed the Equinox, and Elysium and Certis seem to be swapping places on the scale of evil/good.

I want to join the Amry Corp or Engineers =)

You know, the phrase "taking your little brother to school" should mean pounding the stuffing out of him. You're not supposed to actually teach him sh*t.

What's wrong with you southern Canadians?

Actually, I like to think in some ways I did both.

Wait, a *person* writes Maximum Verbosity? I beg to differ. I harnessed my 1337 5k1llz and pulled the source code for this article. Nope, too late, I'm posting it:

while (article.length() < intInsaneLong + 1) { int tmpWord = new Thesaurus.RandomWord(); if (tmpWord.length() > intRediculous) article.text += tmpWord }

So there you have it, folks. Maximum Verbosity may seem complicated, but it really boils down to five lines of code. Toto just pulled the curtain back!

Philanthropist Agamemnon metastasizes ambidextrous mountebanks!

Hah, very well Elysium. You win this round. You may be able to out grammatacize (new word) me, but I can still beat you in a video game that I have never played before so bad that you let me keep it out of frustration.

Elysium wrote:

Philanthropist Agamemnon metastasizes ambidextrous mountebanks!

I see you've got that new job writing subject lines for spam email.

There's been a trend, identified by others more observant than myself, that part of the way that retailers cut costs is to put more of the work on the consumers, and to package it in a way that convinces the consumer that it's better and more efficient for the consumer, although it often requires the consumer to schlep the stuff him or herself. Like the death of the milkman, or the disappearance of the full service gas station (although mandated by law in NJ and WI, I believe).

Why are you in such a hurry to buy socks, anyway?

And Elysium, as to your last paragraph, all words are in some sense an abstraction of a person's thoughts at one point in time. Is there any difference because they're in a book, in a magazine or on a web portal?