A Luddite Fallacy

Between The Bridges

Back in the early 1800s, groups of English workers called "Luddites," banded together and destroyed machinery, especially in cotton and woolen mills, that they believed was threatening their jobs. Some two hundred years later, the inexorable march of new technology and its accompanying diminution of human contact continue unabated. This past weekend saw the end of the era of human toll collectors on the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge with the advent of the MTA's new "cashless" tolling system.

For the record, I am certainly not espousing the citizenry to rise up and tear down the electronic gantries that have replaced a working man or woman in a toll booth. That would be just plain silly as E-Z Pass was already well on the way towards ensuring their demise. It was just a matter of time. But I do believe that we should all take a minute to reflect on just how much "technology" has changed the world that we all live in.

Today we enter an elevator and press the button for which floor we want to go to. However, elevators weren’t always operated by the riders. Early elevators had operators who were in charge of getting the elevator where the passengers needed to go. By the mid-1960s, electronics made sure the days of the elevator operator were numbered.

Years ago one could simply dial "0" on the phone and be greeted by a knowledgeable and friendly human voice who would be happy to assist you in finding the number of the party to whom you wished to speak.  Today's automated answering systems accomplish the same task, minus the interpersonal human contact, but, push the wrong button or mumble a spoken word and you are quickly transported down a technological rabbit hole consisting of a never-ending series of verbal prompts.

Are you old enough to remember pulling into a gas station and having an attendant cater to your fuel and other needs?  "Clean your windows?...Check your fluids and tire pressure?" Not today.  The automated fuel pumps require you to gas up and as for all the other amenities, you're on your own.

Back in the day I use to frequent a savings bank where the tellers all knew me and I could make a withdrawal without being charged a fee. Today all the local ATM knows about me is my PIN and, depending which ATM I use, never forgets to tack on a fee at the end of the transaction which consisted of nothing more than asking for some of my own funds back!

Even at the local supermarket the number of cashiers and packers are dwindling rapidly with the introduction of the self-checkout kiosks, which require you to check each item out and bag it yourself.

I also fear that librarians will soon become a thing of the past with the new self-service check out and book return systems being put in place. The machine also tells you if you have an overdue fine on file and you can pay the machine right then and there!  Mention the "Dewey Decimal System" to anyone under the age of 30 today, and all you get back is a puzzled look as if you were speaking Greek. By the way, if you are interested in Greek, you will find it in the 400 language series of the library's classification (Dewey Decimal) system. Truth be told, the internet and Google have already succeeded in making the old brick-and-mortar library almost obsolete anyway!

As I said earlier, I am most certainly not a luddite when it comes to new technology. Actually, I firmly believe things will ultimately get better, despite our well-meaning efforts to continually improve them.

Broad Channel, why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

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