Mechanization Is A Feature Not A Bug: Part 2

Examples where our robot overlords have made life better:

ATMs: Remember the misery that the bank before ubiquitous ATMs? They sucked! Are you old enough to remember manually trying to get your money out of a bank? (Young people might wish to consult their elders on this.) Dealing with the bank was a friggin’ quest.

Suppose you needed to get fifty bucks out of your account to pay Vinnie the Loanshark and maybe ten bucks to fill your gas tank. (Yeah, there was a time when $10 would fill a tank. Get over it.) The bank was always closed (so often that there was a slang term called “banker’s hours”). Once you performed the miracle of finding a bank you had to wait in line. You waited for the privilege of being served by a bank teller. The teller might be a nice person but she (and it was usually a she) was slower than molasses.

Remember this had to be the bank where you had an account. If you and six other guys were going bar hopping and nobody had cash, you might have to go to six banks to make six withdrawals. This never happened because there was never a time in all humanity when six banks were simultaneously open. (Five of the six guys were broke anyway but that last part might just be memories specific to me.)

I don’t know why, but the teller was always an octogenarian and usually a woman. Lets call her Gladys. Gladys was a sweet woman. She’d tell you all about her cats. Most of the time she even counted the money properly. She was slow. Gladys worked at exactly the same speed if there were two people in line or forty. Gladys didn’t rush… ever. She went home at 5:00 pm on the dot. If you were in line at 5:00 pm, Gladys might serve you or she might duck out. Gladys had shit to do to. Those cats don’t feed themselves.

It was so slow and cumbersome that nobody wanted to deal with it. That’s where checkbooks came from. Everyone carried around a checkbook and a register and a pen and kept it with the crumpled up Styrofoam coffee cups and losing lottery tickets mouldering on the car’s dash. We begged Vinnie and the gas station to take our handwritten paper check. “Please don’t make us go to the bank. That’ll take hours.” Vinnie didn’t want your check and neither did the gas station. Why? Because they didn’t want to take time out of their day to stand in line like a moron waiting for Gladys to make the deposit.

Oh yeah, when your paycheck came, back to the bank. Unless you cashed it at the bar. Here’s a hint; never cash your paycheck at the bar!

One day Gladys was replaced by a soulless machine. I was delighted. You know what the soulless machine does? It works 24/7. It works on Christmas, at 2:00 am, in the rain.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

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13 Responses to Mechanization Is A Feature Not A Bug: Part 2

  1. Tim says:

    I’m torn between appreciating the convenience of automation and worrying my job will get automated away. I hope I’m adaptive enough.

    There are already a large number of people useless to the modern economy. They are quite fertile and they cause a lot of trouble. What to do with the underclass? I don’t think the current approach is sustainable.

    • In theory, if your job gets automated away it frees you up to do a better, cooler, and more awesome job. In the short term it doesn’t seem like that but in the long term it seems to pan out.

      Nobody is useless to the modern economy unless they wish to be. Speaking figuratively, whether you shovel shit with a shovel or a backhoe there’s no end to the shit that needs to be moved. Folks who think they’re too important to be in the shit moving business… they’re often totally and utterly useless.

      • Tim says:

        I wouldn’t want someone with less than about 90 I.Q. even operating the backhoe. Once you get a fleet of driverless backhoes, the dumbest person in the shit shoveling business is going to have to be smarter than 60% of the population. The shit shovelers aren’t going to get jobs at McDonald’s – that’s getting automated. They’re not going to be taxi drivers (thanks Google).

        If a dumb person can do it, it can be automated with current technology. The only reason these jobs still exist is that the cost of the capital investment is greater than the cost of labor. As the cost of automation reduces, the process of labor replacement accelerates.

        The shit shovelers and the gas pumpers are not going to be retrained into electrical engineers and software developers. A rising tide of people the modern economy would prefer to do without is a problem.

      • No they won’t be electrical engineers but they’ll be iPhone salesmen and robot cleaning laborers.

  2. evan price says:

    Robots: Automatic telephone exchange switches. Now you don’t have to dial “O” and ask for “a person-to-person call to University 6564” to make a call.

    • For international calls I remember when you could dial 0 and ask for an “AT&T International Operator” and be instantly connected but if you tried to dial the number yourself you’d be routed to an outhouse in Pakistan. This seemed to be true on both sides of the Atlantic.

  3. Dan F says:

    You are incorrect Gladys wasn’t replaced by a soulless machine. She was replaced by a young woman of whatever ethnic group is predominate in your region. This young woman is there to deal with the only people still standing in line at the bank, old people that speak the same language as her. She doesn’t speak English when Gladys shows up with her social security check and wants to chat about her cats. Karmic payback is a cold hearted bitch sometimes.

  4. eli says:

    and no retailer took a check unless you let them hold your first-born as collateral until Gladys cleared it. at your bank.

  5. The first time I ran into the concept of prepaid “cash cards”, I thought it was a little silly. When I ran into the idea of having the paycheck automatically deposited to a work-issued cash card, I thought “Why would you do that? It’s an extra hassle to put the savings in the bank!”

    And then I thought about it more, and I remembered being young and really broke, and having to constantly do the math over every purchase to see if the bank was going to screw me on an overdraft fee if they “forgot” to credit my paycheck until the other side of the weekend and a couple extra days besides for good measure, and the fees for the privilege of letting them hold my money, and the fee for using an ATM, and the fee (and time) for darkening a teller’s day by forcing them to speak English and hand out money (when they might be open, on hours no working person could ever use unless they were on night shift.) And the fee if I thought about checking my balance, and the fee for having less than $5000 in the account (or any number over $500, which in those days might as well have been one million dollars.)

    And I thought, “that’s why I use a credit union, and it’s damned risky to just trust that the credit card will always magically work everywhere like cash does, but… Mechanization is a feature, not a bug, indeed.

    • Direct deposit is massively more convenient than the bad old days. However I miss getting a physical paycheck for silly reasons. It felt good to have some physical representation of the dollars that I’d worked hard to earn… even if it was nothing more than a slip of paper. Digits on a screen are one step further removed from reality. It makes the job and the pay seem almost unrelated.

      Conversely, getting paid cash has become uncommon and it’s a delicious feeling. It makes you feel like a combination of Tony Soprano and a pirate! Every now and then I’ll do some silly job for a few bucks and get handed a couple greenbacks. A wad of crumpled $5 bills for delivering a cooler full of butchered chickens seems immediate and visceral. You tend to treasure those $5 bills crammed in your pocket far more than the same money from direct deposit. Or maybe that’s just me.

  6. PJ says:

    I know it’s hard to imagine, but I once had a bank that I actually liked going to. It was in Cody, Wyoming; the Shoshone First Bank, very local. I’d walk in there carrying openly, several people would wave and smile at me, the checkout gals looked decent, and I’d get a free cookie and some coffee. Then Wells Fargo bought it, and the life went out of the place. I like automation better than Wells Fargo, but I don’t think I like it better than Shoshone.

  7. Pingback: Mechanization: Video Epilogue | The Adaptive Curmudgeon's Blog

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