In the process of setting up my new computer, I lost the ability to send emails, which puts a big crimp in my daily communication. Unfortunately, the companies that sold me the software and Internet access on my computer don’t provide any human contacts for help. Instead, I got assistance in the form of community forums, where I posted my problem and then get 50 different replies from “community” members, each of who has their own solution. I spent more hours than I care to remember chasing down rabbit holes until I felt I had fallen into some alternate universe. It’s one where all the humans have disappeared, replaced by disembodied names: John42 and MX57.
The next day I talked to a friend who had no luck online trying to use a voucher for Frontier Airlines to make a plane reservation. When she finally tracked down a human voice at Frontier, the woman referred her back to the non-functioning web page.
On my way to the cabin this week, I ran into the grocery store to get a few things. At that early hour, none of the lines were open where human checkers greet you and take care of you. Instead I went through the self-checking aisles, where I had to figure out how much the cilantro and mushrooms cost, where the machine balked at my bag and issued unreasonable statements to “return my items to the cart” when I didn’t have a cart. What would have taken five minutes with a human checker took 10 minutes, which only seems like a lot of time in a time-driven world.
And even when you can find a human being on the phone, they don’t seem to have human emotions. A friend wanted to end the irritating daily messages on his phone: “Your time is limited to reduce your credit card fees.” When he called the number given and asked to be taken off the company’s list, the male voice on the other end repeated “That’s not my problem” and then hung up.
John lives in a cabin near mine, and when I told him about my difficulties in finding human assistance in a world increasingly dominated by machines, he was somewhat baffled. “I don’t have to deal with that,” he told me, and I envied him.
Retired from the work world, he doesn’t own a computer. He rarely travels outside of his small community of Meeker Park and Estes Park. A big trip is to Boulder, down in the “valley.” There’s the mountain world where he lives, where life hums along at a slow and steady pace, and the valley with its frenzied urban activity.
Most people would look at his circumscribed world and feel sorry for such a narrow existence. But his life is rich with human contact: the philosophy and religion group he belongs to, the community theater he is part of, the restaurants where he eats weekly and knows the owners, even the checker at the town grocery store who greets him by name every time he comes in. John has been visiting this part of the world since 1972, before he permanently moved here, and can tell you who lived in each cabin going back more than 40 years. He can tell me which contractor to trust and which handyman to avoid.
John lives in a world that is fast disappearing. I envy him his ignorance of the new one.