Is convenient tech robbing us of interpersonal connections?

PLAY-DRINK-EAT.

I recently traveled to NYC.  Before our return flight home, my husband and I decided to grab a bite and a beverage at LaGuardia to kill some time, rather than sit at the gate.  As we approached the seating at the bar, I could feel confusion setting in.  At first glance, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew it was likely a modern convenience. 

At each seat and behind each placemat, I saw an ipad.  Fortunately, my husband was familiar with this set up and he was able to explain what purpose these ipads served.  As you can see in the photo, the staff behind the bar is there to serve you, just not in the traditional way we are all accustomed to.  There are three icons, PLAY-DRINK-EAT.  If you want to play some free games while you dine, there you go!  If you’d like a beverage, you hit the drink icon and a menu appears. You make your selection, tap the place your order button, proceed to the check out, and then you swipe your card in the black contraption just slightly to the right of each ipad. 

This same process applies to a food order.  So, pretty simple and easy, right?  Straight forward, efficient, you are in control, push the button you want, bada boom, bada bing, and there ya have it. This is not too dissimilar from other establishments, Panera, McDonalds, fast service kiosks to avoid lines and get your order in quickly.  I’m familiar with this. I’ve seen it. I’m not necessarily a fan of tech replacing people, but I get it. 

What do I do with this thing?  I’m so confused.

What you can’t see in this photo is the couple seated to the right of us and the woman to the left of us.  Both parties walked up to the bar and you could see the confusion begin to set it. The woman to our left was probably in her late fifties.  The couple to our right, was in their seventies.  I quietly observed what would happen next.  Normally, when you approach a bar, you are greeted with a hello, a menu, and what would you like? But, this wasn’t happening.  In fact, three staff members behind the bar were wearing ear buds.  Can you believe it? EAR BUDS! The couple then asked, how do we order food and a drink? No one responded, probably because they were wearing ear buds.  My husband proceeded to explain how it works.  They laughed (in a way that suggested we old folks don’t get it), rolled their eyes (in a way that suggested, this seems so silly), and thanked my husband for explaining.  

Meanwhile, the woman to our left asked the staff the same question: How do I order food and a drink?  This time, a staff member responded.  He seemed a bit annoyed at the question, but he wasn’t completely rude.  She was very vocal. “What do I do with this thing?  I’m so confused. Am I doing it right?” All the while, her inquiries were said with a chipper, sunny, and very willing to learn disposition.  The staff member spent quite a bit of time explaining to her how it all worked.  In fact, it took him more time to explain how to use the ipad verses if she had placed her order the traditional way.  I fear the traditional

Advantages & Disadvantages

You can certainly draw your own conclusions and opine about these modern advances in society today.  I realize everything with regard to technology has its advantages and disadvantages.  Technology has its intended use, and in the blink of an eye, it can be morphed into something it was never designed to be used for.  

What I saw in my NYC airport experience, quite frankly, saddened me. I understand the ipads are there to expedite a quick and painless fulfilling of a need; hungry, thirsty, click and go. But these are the things in our culture today that worry me in terms of the breakdown of interpersonal connection. The rapid robbing of human to human contact and interactions.  When people travel, it’s nice to belly up to the bar. It’s common to talk about where you are from or where you are headed, exchange stories, and get to know people you might never have met had you not traveled. These are, most likely, people you will never see again.  

Verbal and Non-verbal practice

What also disturbs me, is how horribly unapproachable (the wearing of ear buds the staff was. How uncomfortable they were when asked for assistance. They bordered on the brink of “put out” having to deal with the confusion. Ultimately, they sent a message that said how inept the customer was at not understanding how to place an order.  

Being a former waitress, bartender, and restaurant owner, I can’t think of a better industry where you engage with people.  You are in the business of people. The conversations I had during those years and the amount of people I interacted with are priceless.  To this day, I have important relationships and friendships as a result of connecting with people in the food and beverage industry. This is an example of how we “practice” the art of communicating without even realizing we are doing it and this is being taken away from us. 

There are reasons to worry

You wonder why I am concerned for our future leaders. Do you think this modern convenience robbed my husband and me of an interpersonal connection? Do you think the staff missed out on an opportunity to connect with other humans to make the work day go by a little faster? Think of all the things you’ve learned over the years through day in and day out casual interactions with people. Modern conveniences definitely have positives, but hijacking us from human interaction is not one of them. 

Look at the young man in the photo above, and tell me if he is one of the MANY that will struggle with verbal and non-verbal communication in the future, that is, if he doesn’t struggle with it already.

#keeptalking

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