It’s happening. Slowly but surely, people are being phased out of more and more jobs, replaced by tablets or machines.
I don’t like it. When I was traveling this past summer, I saw it everywhere. The latest? The airport tablet trend. It’s the brainchild of OTG Management, and it is the bane of travel as far as I am concerned.
Airports have always held the promise of connections. Plane connections, yes, but connections of other kinds as well. Conversations at the airport bar or while waiting for your flight and grabbing a coffee, or at the gate, have sparked romances, dalliances, business opportunities. People-watching at airports has inspired films, writers and artists of all kinds because airports hold so many real-life stories unfolding before our eyes. Stories of reunited loved ones, people traveling for funerals, weddings, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Airports have been the way station between adventures. A part of the experience of travel. They’ve held the potential for adventure, the unknown, new experiences.
Now, airports are looking more and more like, well, a sea of i-Pad stations. Every restaurant has them in front of every chair on every table. If you are with someone, there are two i-Pads standing upright between you, separating you like the plexiglass at the bank teller. There are still some employees, but your contact with them is minimal. (Yet you still are expected to tip them.)
It is supposed to be more efficient and reduce the travelers’ stress at airports. Every time my husband and I ordered through them, there were errors and it ended up taking twice as long as it should have. Our meals were comp’d twice due to error. I had to take rebel action and un-dock our i-Pads so we could actually be together while we ate. I found it all incredibly annoying. And disturbing, in a Hal-creepy kind of way (the software for the OTG system is named Flo.)
We’ve had self-service convenience lanes for years now at stores where you can ring yourself up. (I have to admit I do like those when I am in a hurry.) But at least they have installed them in addition to still having people to ring you up.
Even the people who hawk the free daily papers are being replaced by metal iron bins. Somebody figured out you can just leave the stacked papers in the metal bins for people to grab and forego paying whatever small amount they must have paid those people who would try to get you to take one on your morning commute. I am going to miss those people. Some of them were quite inventive. Like the way some of the subway announcers add a personal touch in the way they give out the usual informational announcements. Some of those people create a moment of connection in the subway with their wit or their exceptional voice — fellow commuters look around and catch eyes and smile in a moment of shared appreciation. More and more, those announcements are becoming automated as well. I will miss that, too.
The opportunities we have to connect with people on a daily basis are becoming less and less as a result of all of this technological advancement and replacement. Interactions between strangers, once commonplace, is lessoning. Sometimes I look around on the streets, and in the buses and subways, and we all look like strange robot-people, plugged into “the source”…our various electronic devices…all looking down into our palms.
Even if you wanted to make a passing remark to someone, they wouldn’t hear you. (Ever try to get off the train, saying “Excuse me!” over and over only to realize that the person you were trying to pass was plugged in and couldn’t hear you?)
I really worry about how this will affect us over time. We’ve begun to notice that young children no longer know how to interact socially. Can it really be that big of a surprise?
It’s as if we all bring the comfort of our living rooms and our offices with us now everywhere we go. We can create our own soundtrack to play as we move through our lives. Sounds cool, right? But when we do that, we miss the actual live music of the actual world around us. Yes, there is a kind of music to the world of daily life around us. We don’t even recognize it anymore.
We now can watch our favorite shows as we move from one place to another. Those in-between times of transition between Point A and Point B used to be opportunities to process what has just occurred, to daydream, or to connect randomly with the world around us. Now it is a way to plug back into what we already know, what we will find at home when we get there. It’s as if we are constantly trying to get back to the state we know best…the state we recognize most. To spend as little time as possible being affected by and living in the actual world as we live in the actual world.
I have a 1.15 hour commute both ways to and from work each day. I often use it as a time to get certain things done. So I get it. I utilize that time, too, using the train as my temporary office. I type, I learn lines, I listen to workshop lessons, audiobooks, read on my Kindle, too.
But I do make a conscious effort to not be plugged in all of the time. I don’t run around the city with my music playing in my ears anymore. I purposefully start up conversations when at a checkout register with the person ringing me up, or the person selling me tea, or the person in line with me at the store. It is amazing how surprised some people are at it. It is not the norm anymore, it is the exception. Before I began to make this effort, I, too, would feel sort of jarred if a stranger tried to have a moment of connection with me out in the world. Sort of annoyed. Like, why are you interrupting my connection with my music or my show or my whatever-I-am-connected-to-at-the-time? Can’t you just leave me alone?
What? Wow. That floored me, when I caught myself feeling that way out in the world. That is when I had to take a hard look at what was happening in the world around me. And at my behavior in it. I had to ask myself what I was doing in the world in the first place.
Are we all here to remain the same as much as possible? To only connect with the known and to stay safely in control of what we are exposed to as we move through the world? Do I really want to try to maintain the world of my home and take it with me as I go out into the world?
Or do I want to go out into the world and be affected by it? Interact with it and communicate with people and allow myself to move through the world and connect to it? Be moved and changed by the interactions I have with real people?
So I started weening myself off of my smartphone. It was tough at first…to go back to just walking down a street without looking down and doing something on my phone felt, well, anxiety-provoking at first. My system was no longer used to the simple, naked action of moving through space with just me and my thoughts and the world around me. But in time, I learned again how to just enjoy the sunlight on my face, or to take in the street scene, to exchange a smile with a passer-by. Have a short exchange with someone on an elevator. Spark up a conversation in a line. There ARE still others out there happy to connect like that. You just won’t even see them unless you are available to it.
Just as I set office hours for myself as a self-employed person, I also now set boundaries for my time on my phone when out in the world. It makes a huge difference in the quality of my day.
I love my smartphone, I really do. But I love people too. I don’t want to forget how to have an exchange with a stranger. Some of the most memorable conversations I have had were in airports with strangers. I wouldn’t be the same without having had them.