What tech is taking from us

western auto
Back in the 90’s I knew a guy who owned a car stereo shop.  While shooting the breeze one day he tells he is tired of customers treating his business like a flea market.

“Guys come in and see these paper, handwritten price tags and think: ‘I’ll offer $xyz and just see what he says’.”  Scott complains.  So “I’m getting a barcode system!” he bellows.

“Cool.  What will that do for you?”, I ask.

He tells me: “So when these jabronies come around and start haggling at my register I’ll just smile while pulling the trigger on my scan gun… and just go ‘<BEEP> what else for you today, sir?’  And that’s it.”  I nodded slowly.

I understood his frustration.  I didn’t blame him.   Sometimes you have to do things like that to stay in business.   But something nagged at me.

I enjoy the benefits of automation as much as anybody.  I like paying at the pump and my online banking.  RedBox makes more sense than Blockbuster.  Dunder Mifflin vs. Staples; I get it.

But I’m sentimental too.  I’m a sucker for my dad’s stories about the Norman Rockwell era of our society; and the truth: that we’ve automated the charm right out of our culture.  We’ve traded Mayberry for the Blackberry and then some.

I also get the material benefits of commoditization and large scale distribution.  And to the extent that it solves real socioeconomic challenges like producing enough food, shelter, medicine and clothing affordably I would never suggest that we back off on such optimizations.  With the world’s population being what it is, we cannot.  But for all of our ten thousand permutations of coffee beverages and commercialess intravenous TV streaming  what else are we getting?

Isolated.  Moore’s Law has made cordiality obsolete.  Our technology has made us so independent that we pretend not to need each other.

It used to be called “Blackberry prayer” when people were found conspicuously engrossed in their device and drifting in and out of reality.  Now we’re all smartphone drones  wandering to and fro like a Roomba in a theatre lobby. I guess flying cars are out?

In the 20th century, men eventually did ask for directions. But jokes about that don’t even work on an audience under thirty. The next generation may require finishing school just to learn the antiquated concept of eye contact.

We can’t go back and that’s fine.  So I just bring the past forward and strike up conversations with total strangers.  It’s the new cow tipping.