Automation Might be Convenient, But Is It Classy?

My daughter Scarlet and I visited a restaurant the other morning to purchase some bagels. I ordered a “Baker’s Dozen” of various styles; plenty of Scarlet’s favorite, the oneIMG_0519 with sugar piled on top. When I asked the person behind the counter to slice and toast two of the bagels, so we could eat them then and there, I was told that I’d have to buy two more bagels, outside of the baker’s dozen. “The Line, where they assemble sandwiches and cook things, would have to toast the bagels,” it was explained.

Rather than schooling the employee on customer-service or being difficult, I opted to have two of the baker’s dozen sliced right there and forego the toasting. I felt a little

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cheap, but it was a principle-thing. I had purchased the baker’s dozen to save money. Buying two additional bagels would have canceled that, and then we would have too many bagels to eat over the course of the next couple of days.

You should know that there were, maybe, three people sitting and eating in the restaurant, and there was one person behind me in line. In other words, it was not rush hour. It seems to me that the main reason for the toasting needing an additional purchase was because the computer didn’t have a way to send an automated message to “The Line” when a baker’s dozen was being purchased. The only way for this worker to communicate that two bagels were to be toasted was by producing a separate order… Or, she could have grabbed a couple of the thirteen and asked the people working “The Line” to toast them… verbally… perhaps with hand gestures or signs.

Empathy: This deserves a whole series of Classy Blogs, but let me start here. In every single situation, I try to empathize with each person involved, because I believe attempting understanding motives is classy. When you know where someone is coming

photo of black flat screen monitor
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from, it is easier to behave classy. In this instance, the girl taking my order could very well have been new. Perhaps she was told to only use the computer. Maybe she was specifically told to avoid extra transactions, outside of the automated system. “If a customer wants his bagel toasted, you HAVE to press the toast icon on the keypad,” a manager may have said to her right before I placed my order. It isn’t impossible for there to even be an unseen difficulty for this girl to walk the ten feet and talk to “The Line”. Her ex-boyfriend could be working over there, and they just broke up. Who knows? The one thing that I did know was that this girl could not see through the automation of the ordering system before her.

It reminded me of a movie that I do not recommend you watch. It isn’t the drug use and profanity that keep me from suggesting you see “Idiocracy”. The movie has gone from satirical comedy to frightening realism. Its preface is a world 500 years in the future that has become idiotic due to people’s intelligence devolving. While there are several ways this is depicted, one is the use of computers with nothing but icons on them. When I first saw it, I thought it funny, but watching it a year or so ago made me dangerously depressed.

Here is some more empathy: I understand why automation exists. The people at the head of companies want to make as much money as they can. This is only natural. I would like to have more money, too. By lowering the steps necessary to take care of customers,

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limiting the amount of time a living human being is needed for communicating with people, the companies can hire fewer people, thereby spending less on employment. Also, automation can lessen the amount of trivial needs that their paid employees have to deal with. When there is bad weather and I call my gym to see if it is still open, I am surprised to talk to an actual person. I apologize for simply wanting to know if it is open. “Yes, we are open,” a courteous receptionist assures me. I feel badly for how many times that person is probably going to have to deal with my question throughout the morning. An automated system could help them.

On the other hand, when I have a pressing need or question that I know won’t be

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addressed by an automated system, it is infuriating to have to jump through a million hoops to talk to a real person. Sometimes I mask myself as a person seeking to begin a new account just to get to talk to a live person. When I get “transferred” to a person who can “help with my specific issue,” my cynicism makes me wonder if my lengthy wait is just part of meeting the company’s hold-time-quota: “You’re going to wait, whether you realize/want to, or not.”

In the case of my morning bagel customer-service crisis, it was sad to see a young woman be boxed into an algorithm that didn’t allow her the ability to show the classic “customer-first” concept that makes the service industry classy. Doctors are equipped with an awesome amount of valuable information via the Internet, which can make their work of diagnosing patients’ ailments more effective. Who would be okay with the doctor texting you what they find? The 2009 movie “Up In the Air” gets it. George Clooney plays a businessman who is hired in order to fire people. When his job is threatened by an online career-termination skeem that a fresh, young mind thinks up, Clooney’s character insists that the inventor travel with him to witness the class necessary for handling this delicate procedure properly.

Fighting automation is a losing battle. “Let the robots take the jobs…” Kevin Kelly (2012) thinks robots should win the jobs that can be automated, “And let them help us dream up new work that matters.” There will be hiccups along the way, and Scarlet and I might have to eat a couple untoasted bagels, but it’s worth being able to type this on a computer instead of being busy with farm chores; one of the many ways robots have rescued Americans.

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Judge, M. (Director). (2006). Idiocracy [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: 20th Century Fox.

Kelly, K. (2012, December 24). Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.wired.com/2012/12/ff-robots-will-take-our-jobs/

Reitman, J. (Director). (2009). Up in the Air [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Paramount.

 

Published by

Matt Weimann

I am a 3rd grade teacher (since 2011) at Willow Lane Elementary (http://www.eastpennsd.org/willow/) in Eastpenn School District, Macungie, PA. I have run a school-wide newspaper club for three years and am starting a chess club this year. What makes me me is artistically blending technology with hands-on, crafty, artsy, messy, tinkering, exploring, discovering activities. You can learn more about me on my school website "About Me" page: https://sites.google.com/eastpennsd.org/mrweimann/about-mr-weimann

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