Essays

When smart is stupid

I travel more than average. I travel by plane more than most of the more than average. I love airports and I’ve learned to be more forgiving of their oddities and irritations because I go through them often enough to know how to bypass most of those irritating aspects (see: performative security and people failing to go through the scanners again and again and again)

But, this morning, I had an experience that truly aggravated me and it had nothing to do with the airport and air travel itself and everything to do with “smart technology, efficiency, and self-serve.”

I miss customer service and human interaction.

Oddly enough, last night I was reading an article about how the rise in self-service is supposedly making costs more efficient for stores and retailers, et al., even to the degree of a recent startup called Bodega trying to replace actual human bodegas with ‘upgraded’ vending machine stores and you know what? It pisses me off.

There are reasons why it does that, some more personal than others:

  1. Cost efficiency doesn’t necessarily equal process efficiency (see people milling about and unsure how to checkout and get what they need? Your efficiency play failed. The place I went to this morning for just a bloody tea? Too smart for its own good: I’ll never go back)
  2. Human interaction still matters and it can be the difference between a no-good, terrible, bad start to a day, or a neutral, even pleasant engagement which pays benefits forward. If you think that the war in Silicon Valley between the techies and the non-techies is not in some way attributable to the above, you’re fooling yourself
  3. Unhappy consumers eventually stop spending and so your cost efficiency play may be a save upfront, but it’ll get you on the back-end
  4. Efficiency in and of itself is not an end goal. Doing everything for the sake of that does disrupt, but ever heard the statement “careful what you wish for, you just might get it?” A hyper efficient world may be very smooth and efficient, but that forces a standardization of living, a hellacious utopic experience, and really, a world I’d rather not live in.

I’ve got a plane to catch but I’m still annoyed. That was, hands down, the worst start I’ve ever had to an airport experience and a miserable way to start what is going to be a very long day.

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