I remember the first time our family got a touchscreen. It was an early GPS model (the kind you had to buy map updates for), but I was too young to drive, so what stood out to me was the touchscreen. I’d seen Star Trek, so I knew what to do. I just never guessed that I would live to see the day when McDonalds had more touchscreens than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Screens for ordering, screens for keeping children entertained at the tables, screens for displaying menus, and don’t forget the personal communication devices everyone carries everywhere. Captain Kirk would be impressed.
But where are the employees? I can’t see them anymore because they were put behind walls and the counter is a tiny short thing, basically just a collection point. All this technological progress means that I can order, eat, and leave without having to talk to anyone. It’s the same at the bank. I used to make a regular trip to the bank, and got to the point that I looked forward to seeing the tellers who became my friends. Then they introduced an app, and I started doing most of my banking from home. These days even when I do go in person I wait in the queue just to push buttons on a row of screens and, just like McDonald’s, I can come and go without saying a word. I could go on about the self-service tills at the grocery store, or how we can order our food from a screen at home and have it delivered, but you already know about that. All this convenience is nice, and has it’s obvious advantages, but I can’t help feeling like it’s robbed me of something.
I miss talking to strangers.
Even if it was just about burgers or bank notes or the weather (it was always about the weather), there’s a warmth and goodness in the simple act of conversation that I never noticed until it was gone. The machines are efficient, yes, but they’re cold. You can’t look them in the eye, or commiserate together about the rain, or wish them a good weekend. You can’t get to know them over months and weeks and years, and end up friends like I did with the bank tellers. I miss the bank tellers. I miss talking with them about holidays and how shocking the weather is. For that matter, I just miss talking. I miss being forced to communicate with other humans. If you don’t have to talk, it becomes impolite to break the silence. So we sit on the train, stand in the queue at the bank, wait for our orders at McD’s, and look at our personal communication devices instead of communicating with the living, breathing humans all around us.
I like my phone. I use it for banking.
But I really do miss talking to strangers.