Encounter with the Future Present

I had my first encounter with the ITM (Interpersonal Teller Machine) last week and, while the transaction itself was successful, I left feeling depressed. Here’s why:

  1.  I’m talking to a REAL PERSON through an electronic interface! Not a robot, but someone who was likely interrupted from another task by my imperious summons. This is creepy and feels downright rude. Adding injury to insult, her image is small and fuzzy, not like the crisp graphic avatar a robotic voice might sport. 
  2.  There is no illusion of privacy; I’m talking to a screen on a wall. Anyone passing by can overhear our conversation, including my account number and details of my transaction. In a face-to-face contact, the teller reads my account number from the check while we catch up on the weather and politics.
  3.  There’s no sense of human contact. I have to repeat everything I say to her because the audio is not up to snuff and (to be fair) because I have an inhibition that prevents my shouting out personal information — like my account number and details of my transaction — in public spaces. It feels as though everyone in the lobby is forced to overhear my business. How can they not hear it? Maybe that’s why the building is made of entirely hard surfaces — so that sound bounces around so much it’s hard to distinguish individual sounds. Of course, this requires people to talk louder to be understood, which increases the sounds bouncing around, which…. An unintended consequence?
  4.  I feel bad for Jennifer. (Yes, the human teller has a name.) I’m not sure why, but I feel the enforced distance (which was a couple hundred yards of real distance) devalues both her and her work. Irrational, perhaps, but why is the poor woman sequestered? How long before she joins the surplus labor force?

 I am thrilled by online chats with people around the world, from the privacy of my home. The technology that makes Skype and FaceTime possible is beyond cool. Maybe I wouldn’t mind the ITM if I could access Jennifer from home and deposit my physical check in comfort and privacy. But driving to the bank to be stood in front of a screen (which I must address at louder volume than my street voice) just feels like exploitation. For me and for Jennifer. We are both secondary to the flashy new technology that is being foisted upon us for someone else’s profit. Today, I have a choice, though Jennifer may not, but how long before this impersonal interpersonality becomes the norm?

I’m not much for interim technology; that’s why owning a Prius doesn’t interest me. (Now, a Tesla, or even a Leaf — that’s another story!) Perhaps the ITM is the interim leading to check deposit from my recliner. What we remember as great leaps are  frequently the terminus of lots of smaller hops. And capitalism requires people buy into the interim phases in order to fund the next phase. I’m not willing to participate in exploitation of customers and workers for a few bank owners’ short-term gains.

So be it; I’ll wait patiently for the human teller behind the counter, just over there, until the HITM (home interactive teller machine) is ready for testing. I rather hope it’s a long time coming.

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