This past weekend I went to the bank to deposit a check and get some cash.
I gave the teller my check, the deposit slip, and requested my $50 back in tens.
Click, click, click went his computer, and in seconds he was presenting me a handful of five $10 bills.
I paused, furrowed my brow. What the…? The transaction was over way too quickly, and I felt uncomfortable by the way he just magically produced my cash and handed it over without counting it. Every teller counts your money! Several times, in fact! That’s why they wear those plastic finger condoms, so they can whip through those bills like a blackjack dealer. The nerve of this teller, to just assume he produced the correct amount of money…
…and then reality hit me. I saw the black printer-like machine next to the teller–a money computer. Just days ago, this teller would have opened a drawer, pulled out some tens, and flip, flip, flipped through the wad to give me the correct amount. But now all he has to do is click in some code that translates to $50 = tens, and with a yawn he reaches down, grabs the cash, and ho-humly passes it over to me like a bored CVS clerk giving me my receipt for a bottle of water.
Technology, 1; Things That Make Life Exciting, 0.
Sure, counting money the old-fashioned way must be time consuming when paired with a robot that does the math for you, but there is something fascinating about watching a bank teller whip through a stack of new, freshly cut bills with cheetah-like speed: 10-20-30-40-50. Re-stack. 10-20-30-40-50. Re-stack. 10-20-30-40-50. All yours! Have a great day! It’s a sensory experience of watching the teller flash through the the money, hearing the flip-flip-flip of the paper against the person’s hands. It adds some color to the otherwise mundane task of going to the bank, a little magic trick of sorts to make that 10-minute wait in line seem not so bad in the end. And, jeez, at least it gives the teller a little dignity! Going from bank lobby pseudo-magician to robot peon can’t be good for self-esteem.
The bank encounter reminded me of other sensory experiences being silenced in place of technology, one of which is the old time board at Orlando International Airport.
I nicknamed this behemoth the “flippy screen,” because any time a plane departed, arrived, or was delayed, the line in question spun like the numbers on a slot machine until the new designation was listed. At times several lines would flip at once, making the sound of a card dealer on speed. It was fun to witness, too, a bit mesmerizing, like watching little old ladies in a casino pull their slot machine lever over and over and over again. Lucky 7s? Flight to Philadelphia on time?
So you can imagine my disappointment when, several years ago, my beloved flippy screen became a victim of technology and was replaced with several flat-panel televisions. They’re boring. They just sit there. When a flight status changes, in just a blink of an eye, the wording goes from “Boarding” to “Departed.” Like that! No sound, no anticipation of where the flippy board will end. It’s like getting a scratch-off lottery ticket and finding that the numbers appear by themselves without you having to grind a penny into the card and brush the metallic crumbs off your kitchen counter. Yes, it’s quicker, but what’s the fun in that?
We have eyes and ears and a nose for a reason. We’re sensory creatures!
Now, I dislike the traffic that builds up around toll booths on bridges and expressways, but I’m not looking forward to the day these guys go extinct:
True, true, these coin baskets can sometimes be a great cause of anxiety on the road (“Do I have exact cash?” “Is my car too far away from the basket?” “What if I have awful aim and the coin misses?!”), but again, it’s a sensory experience. There’s the satisfaction off “gettin’ the coins in” (c’mon, we’ve all at least once compared ourselves to some sports hero when all the money reaches its destination), the jingle-jingle as the money funnels to the bottom of the basket, and the final nod of approval from the monitor that has counted all of our coins and gives us permission to pass through the gate.
There are plans underway to make many of the roads in South Jersey all under the control of EZ-Pass, eliminating not only these delightful sounds of quarters and dimes tap dancing in a plastic bucket but most of the physical, human people who serve as toll collectors as well. No matter how many times I tell my husband the story of the charming toll collector on the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge who flirted with my grandmother every Friday when she crossed into Philly to visit her siblings, he firmly stands by fiscal responsibility and eliminating unnecessary jobs and doesn’t care about jingle-jangles or romantic glances from overpaid toll collectors. I totally see his point, and my brain agrees–it’s my eyes, ears, fingers, and heart that struggle to make peace with all of this sensory-stealing technology.