The Big Disconnect
You know what I absolutely hate? ItÃ‚'s when people use the phrase, "if thereÃ‚'s any one so-and-so it would beÃ‚"…" 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 farmerÃ‚'s overalls. You canÃ‚'t enter a hypothetical conversation without tripping over the phrase like a skateboard on a staircase. If thereÃ‚'s any one great mystery to the universe it would be how it began? If thereÃ‚'s any one law of nature itÃ‚'s kill or be killed. If thereÃ‚'s any one great ice-cream flavor itÃ‚'s chocolate. If thereÃ‚'s any one thing IÃ‚'d definitely not stick up my nose itÃ‚'s a wad of soiled monkey hair. And so on.
ItÃ‚'s such a clichÃƒÂ©, 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 wouldnÃ‚'t stick up my nose.That said, if thereÃ‚'s any one paradox of humanity itÃ‚'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, Ã‚"˜you could make great things with me, a door hinge, but you canÃ‚'t even bake a chocolate cake without racking up a half-dozen building code violations.Ã‚' 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 donÃ‚'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 canÃ‚'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 IÃ‚'ve established previously, IÃ‚'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 doesnÃ‚'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 Ã‚– with the notable exclusion of home repair, for which IÃ‚'m happy to call the Amry Corps of Engineers Ã‚– 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, IÃ‚'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 IÃ‚'m in a perpetual hurry. IÃ‚'m certainly not alone here.
The real issue with waiting in lines at the bank, the store, the local WendyÃ‚'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 arenÃ‚'t going to buy themselves, and what if theyÃ‚'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 itÃ‚'s not all about being in a hurry, because even if the actual transaction takes as long or longer, IÃ‚'m likely to pick automated over interaction. Hell, IÃ‚'ll even pay more!
ShouldnÃ‚'t it be troubling that, as a rule, weÃ‚'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 weÃ‚'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 thereÃ‚'s any one thing humans are good at [sic] itÃ‚'s screwing things up Ã‚– 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 didnÃ‚'t bristle quite so much when forced upon one another.
IÃ‚'m not really looking back on these halcyon days with starry eyes and hazy rose-colored nostalgia, because IÃ‚'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 itÃ‚'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 donÃ‚'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.