We Don’t Talk Anymore

Dec 27, 2004

By George Anderson

Sociologists and others are concerned that the modern reliance on technology-based self-service is eroding people’s ability to communicate with one another.

Others say less idle chatter and unpleasant experiences with inept or surly service people, frees us up for more quality communication time with those who matter most.

Ray Oldenburg, a Florida urban sociologist, author and retired professor, is among those concerned with our increasing reliance on automation.

He told the San Diego Union-Tribune, “I grew up in a small town. Conversations with shopkeepers and bank tellers were the daily fare. My parents interacted with all kinds of people in order to do business. Nowadays, anonymous technology is replacing a lot of that social contact.”

Professor Oldenburg said using automation to do everything yourself “shrinks” a person’s world and perspective by limiting interactions with only those “who think the way you do and work the way you do.”

Robert Kraut, professor of human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University, believes there are many instances when human contact is more hindrance than help in our daily lives.

“A lot of those interactions are a real annoyance,” he said. “It’s possible that there’s a real benefit by automating them. Are those fleeting interactions with the toll-taker or the bank teller really meaningful?”

Professor Oldenburg believes a lack of interaction has been behind the appeal of what he calls “third places,” informal gathering spots such as Starbucks where people can now communicate with a barista where before they might have chatted with a bank teller or grocery checkout clerk.

Moderator’s Comment: Generally speaking, has automation
improved or deteriorated the level of customer service we receive? Are those
joining the retail workforce today better or worse communicators than those
who entered in the business in past generations?

George Anderson – Moderator

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