January 31, 2023

The downside of progress

Sam Smith - The other day I experienced a striking example of something that has been troubling me: how the growth of our society and the systems to support it are in many ways a step backwards. While artificial intelligence is a dramatic example, even the growth of institutions in place of community and the automation of formerly human relationships are far more common but remain seldom addressed. 

My problem was a simple one. A month or so ago I had changed my bank account number because of some questionable activity. The Maine bank in my small town told me I would have to let Social Security know so they could send my checks to the right account. I dropped by the bank and the assistant manager invited me to her office to do the job, which required online dealing.

Well, Social Security was too busy to handle me right away and so we were repeatedly told by the computer to please stand by until my account could be considered followed by many minutes of unimpressive music.

Meanwhile, the assistant manager and I engaged for over 50 minutes  of conversation about what we enjoyed about our town, how her children were doing, and other aspects of our personal lives. It reminded me of how pleasant I had always found this bank, where I recently had solved a password problem with the help the manager and when I apologized for the trouble, she smiled and said she had had one too.

Eventually the assistant manager cancelled our connection in favor of trying Social Security in a small nearby town. She was on that site right away and in about three minutes my problem was solved.

This is a minor example of a problem I don't think we think hard enough about: systems, technology, institutions and automated responses are replacing human choices in our daily life. And as a result we are forgetting the value of community and human contact and the way one enjoys them for a better life.  


Greg Gerritt said...

I recently tried to file the yearly tax form for a small non profit but the IRS website was not working and there is no way to actually talk to anyone who could help.

Anonymous said...

That is why I avoid ATMs and the self-checkout line.