Driving away from a doctor’s appointment recently, I passed through the parking garage’s exit lane. An older man sat within the little grey payment booth, taking credit cards and doling out unwanted receipts. I had seen him the week before at an earlier visit, but I guess somehow, this time, it struck me. Did he spend hours in the little booth regularly?
Parking booths aren’t exactly a new thing, but I never considered that someone occupies one more than once per week. On this occasion, I pitied his cramped surroundings and unenviable task, the final wallet grab from a stream of exiting patients. I wondered how he must endure the grouchy and harried souls fumbling for wallets—the many excuses and moods, or the lack of eye contact. Even more so, I wondered how he might feel about himself—unnoticed, utilitarian, confined; the way millions of people in similarly boring jobs may feel.
Something basic struck me, though. Here was a living person, possibly bored, but still interacting with an impressive stream of faces and hands. I greatly prefer a living, breathing parking attendant to the automated captors that invariably dislike the way I insert my credit card. This man relieved me of the cold-hearted ticket machine battles; he was real.
My ticket man is not unusual, though. An entire world of people labors faithfully in obscurity, far from the camera-hungry politicians and technology experts who tell the rest of us how to live and move the 21st Century way. There these workers are, doing their assigned part to make the big machine run, attracting little applause for faithfulness in tiresome things. They mow medians, drive UPS trucks or clean airport bathrooms, seldom lauded for making life prettier, faster, or more pleasant for everyone else.
Best of all, these warm-blooded employees are among the last vestiges of real, live human authenticity. They temper and soften the cold digital efficiencies of our modern life. Although the grocery checkout is expedited by the same technology I often loathe, the human cashier who chats, smiles and slides my bread across the scanner puts back some warmth into the experience.
We all encounter mass society’s grumpier efficiencies—Atlanta’s bellowing TSA agents are surely one of the shining examples. They leave us feeling drained because they serve technology’s dictates amid a sea of humans. Even care for our bodies must bow to digital lords; routine medical visits always start with an annoying little touch-screen tablet that I must fill out, time and time again—as though I’m a complete stranger—along with several screens of legalese. I may have willed my house to a lawyer somewhere, only because I badly needed a cavity filled. Whether traveling or seeing doctors, we must waive away our rights to sanity.