Our Town: Cold Wall St. vs. Main St. humanity

Dr Tom Ferraro

The battle between Main Street and Wall Street continues uninterrupted.  

Much like the story of David and Goliath, the odds are heavily stacked against Main Street. The question that needs to be asked is why even worry. 

After all, those big box stores like Home Depot, Jared’s, Walmart and Toys R Us have a wonderfully wide array of products, all at prices which undercut the local merchant. 

Well  I think it’s clear that humans are paying a high price for the items in the big box stores.  Here is a recent example.   

Last week I was in a rush to get some cold cuts and salads for my dinner guests. Rather than travel out to Jericho to go to Whole Foods I went to Stop and Shop which is closer to my home. 

I waltzed into the place and picked up the few dinner items I needed and decided to use one of the computer operated checkout lines since they had such short lines. 

I stood behind a lady who only had one red pepper and a mango to check out.  One red pepper and one mango.  How long could it take?  Certainly no more than 60 seconds right?   Wrong.  

As she chatted on her cell phone she also engaged in numerous futile efforts to follow the computer’s prompts.  

She was forced to go through page after page on the screen for the proper number for her red pepper which took maybe three minutes. In triumph she placed the red pepper on the belt and went through the arduous task of doing the same thing with mango. 

This took another three minutes  and finally she was finished.    

Since I was now very late I immediately began to check out my few items which then traveled down the belt and became mixed up with her red pepper and her mango.  To this she shouted “Can’t you wait!”   

To which I promptly replied  “No!”   

This is merely one example of how grotesque, unsettling, and enraging it often is when you are forced to interact with computers rather than humans.

We all must endure many of these kind of dehumanizing moments throughout the day.  If you are forced to call your insurance company you are in for a super treat. 

You may spend up to seven minutes listening to  various phone prompts until you finally get to speak to a person who will then refer you to a number whereupon you will begin this little circus again. 

What I feel is the most sinister of abuses is when you call anyone with a cell phone and are forced to listen to a lengthy message which will be both unhelpful and probably frustrating. Here is a good example.  

After waiting through 15 seconds of rings you are delivered to a computer voice which tells you something you already know like “you have reached the phone number  516…555-5555.   The mailbox is full. 

You many leave an MFS message by pressing the number 5…..you may leave an MFS message by pressing the number 5….You may leave an MFS message by pressing the number 5..   Thank you…goodbye.”    

Please note that these messages invariably take about 60 to 62 seconds and I give you my guarantee this is done to allow phone companies to bill that extra minute.  

Clever move on their part and what’s the big deal if you waste 60 seconds?

Or how about the fantastic arrival of electronic tickets if you pass a red light? It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling just thinking about that one. 

What we are experiencing more and more is the disappearance of humans  and the expansion of cold computerized ‘support’.    

I have been in Century 21 three times. And each time I found my item and waited on line behind maybe 15 others on line to check out. 

There is typically one or two overworked minimum wage exhausted employees dealing with the long line and frustrated shoppers.  I wait for about five minutes, calmly put my items on a table and walked out without buying anything. 

Obviously  we ought to be delighted with all this as we understand that the CEO and major stock holders of these various conglomerates are enjoying their vacations on some far away private island in the Bahamas. 

We are all exposed to these experiences many times a day and they are unavoidable. This builds up rage and disgust and hatred and when we hear about news stories of sudden violence no one is really that surprised anymore.   

This is what I call the dehumanization of our life.  Computers do not see us as individuals. Perhaps they see us as fellow computers.  

The opposite of this is what we get on Main Street.  

Mr. David Kim of Pembroke Cleaners knows my name and I do not have to produce a slip in order for him to get my clothing. 

Allan Walsh of Pyramid Jewelers knows my name and since I have bought things there many times and since we have a relationship he will sometimes give me things gratis.  

Tal’s will work on my car and I know I will not be ripped off. We have a relationship.  

Lynn at Sushi Republic knows who I am so when I walk in to pick up my order she hands it to me with a smile without me asking. We have a relationship. We are both human beings who like and respect each other. 

I do not have nor will I ever have a relationship with the computer in Stop and Shop. Not the one at Home Depot. 

They all  speak  in that eerie soulless  monotone that I do not like.  

This is our new world and usually I find it unsettling and frustrating and depressing. This is what is called the ever growing dehumanization of our life and this is why I love and I cherish our Main Street and its people.

About the author

Dr Tom Ferraro

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