I got locked in the safety deposit room at my bank last week.
Here’s what happened:
After I finished my business, I rang the bell to signal I was ready to get out. Nobody came.
I waited patiently, like the good person I try to be, then rang the bell again. Nobody responded.
Finally, just as claustrophobia set in, a flustered teller showed up to release me. She was, she explained, the only teller working that day and couldn’t get free of customers to come to my aid. When I expressed surprise, she said lots of people did all their banking on their phones, so the top brass at the bank were saving money by cutting down on employees.
Today’s newspaper had an article about how Marriott is contemplating replacing their human clerks— the ones who check you into your hotel and give you a card to open your door—with automation.
Gone will be the cheery smile and good wishes for a nice day. Instead, you’ll get the flat tones of Alexa and a machine will burp out your card.
I’m sure that in lovely country inns, you’ll still get a smile and a bit of personal conversation at the front desk, but with corporations dominating today’s markets, Marriott’s change in policy will be way more important to workers than what a few innkeepers do.
Aside from the damage done to paychecks when humans are replaced by machines, there is also a threat to our humanity.
Already, we hear many young people are more comfortable communicating with a machine than face to face with their contemporaries.
In newspaper stories about modern romances, men and women who go on the internet to find love, often report they have written each other for months before either one expresses the need to meet in the flesh.
At my regular market, I never choose the self checkout.
I’d rather look for Brenda, my favorite clerk who is fast and friendly. We exchange some unimportant pleasantries, we laugh a little, complain a little and I usually leave the store with a smile on my face.
I understand it's also becoming popular to order groceries on the internet and have them delivered. If I did that, not only would I never see Brenda, I wouldn’t encounter the friends whom I often bump into buying strawberries and eggplant.
On the day I was stuck in the safety deposit room, I started wondering what people did with all the time they save by banking on their phone.
Once upon a time I had three children under three, an eight-room house, a half-acre garden, an old dog and no help.
I polished brass and silver, vacuumed, changed diapers, gave dinner parties and still had time to go to the bank and the grocery store.
Of course, you may speculate that I was young (true) and that I should have been paying more attention to my children (possibly true). But I suspect my interaction with neighbors and store clerks helped keep me sane during those busy years. If Alexa had been my only choice for companionship, I’m not sure things would have turned out so well.
So let’s hear it for face-to-face encounters in our daily life—handshakes, smiles and a hug or two.
We’ve all got a union card stating we're members of the human race. So let's get out there!