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OPINION: The depersonalization of life continues

In this edition of Philip Maher's Mercy Traveler column, he looks at the depersonalization of .... everything
File photo

We’ve seen our world radically change over the last few years. The pandemic simply accelerated money-saving technology that changed businesses more than any political movement ever could. 

Increasingly, we live in a world without human touch interacting through a shower curtain at the checkout counter, or worse, through a screen using the Zoom chat. 

As a mostly people-oriented person myself, I want to scream. I call it the uberization of everything. It is a catch-all term for me that highlights how everything is downloadable, do it yourself-able and offshore-able. 

I recently took a trip to the U.S. No longer do you need a travel agent. You research flights, book flights, check-in yourself, attach luggage tags and place them on a belt without the messy business of dealing with humans. Will I soon fly the plane? 

I also called a courier service about a travel visa for Africa, lost in their system. The man who could barely understand me was based in Guatemala.

At a U.S. hotel, which you book on one of those hotel and travel aggregator websites (which is a website that is a front for another website) you ask for an extra towel, a robot delivers it. Another job uberized. 

Upon returning to Canada, I filled out the Canada Arrive app, then I stood in one of those 45-minute zigzag cattle queues snaking its way up to a touch screen. At least you get to talk to other frustrated travellers and touch something! That was the highlight of my day. 

If you want a hamburger, most places have replaced people with apps on your phone. If you want to order at the Golden Arches, you’re welcomed by another touch screen. While in the U.S. I ate at an In and Out Burger. If you have not heard, they have a cult-like following; they had no touch screen, simply an army of staff. God Bless America. 

When I had problems with my Canadian cell phone, I spoke to a woman in Romania. My problem was raised to her supervisor in El Salvador. I patiently waited two hours for an urgent request with my insurance company with offices in nearby Kitchener. The woman who answered was in the Philippines. It took long to answer because of a cyclone, she told me. I called a hotel to book a room, and the person was in the state of Georgia. At least that is on my continent. 

No offence to any of these fine countries and their call centres, but dealing with faceless entities takes away the personality. You are just a number, as I assume they are to their employers. There is no “how are the kids, Marge?” You just get on with business. 

Day after day, I feel defrauded of personal interaction. Furthermore, there is nobody to help you. I find myself wandering through airports looking for somebody to solve a problem or aimlessly searching online looking to answer a question about a product or process. 

The ultimate online irony is that I am constantly asked to prove that I am not a robot. How is it that it is okay for me to deal with robots, but robots only want to deal with humans? Are robots reaching out for human interaction after only dealing with their own kind for so long? 

Even my doctor’s office in Guelph forces me to listen to a human recording that seems to imitate a deadpan, robotized voice, telling me that I should really go to the website first. I get it. You’re sick, it’s your fault. Get in line, stupid. 

Given the direction of the world with self-driving cars, virtual sex and drones delivering everything from pizza to bombs (yes we’ve uberized war) we increasingly live in a world with an absence of meaningful interaction. Like Monty Python’s cheese shop, void of cheese, we live in a world of filling out boxes on the Internet and absent of facing people. No wonder we have mental health issues. If you have problems, who you gonna call — a toll-free number to a robot voice in China.  

What will the world look like in 10 years? 

So, if I linger a bit when checking out groceries, avoiding the self-checkout line, please be patient with me. My chattiness is just me doing self-care. I’m trying to reach out for human connection. If I ask you, a perfect stranger, about how many kids you have or from where your family hails, it is just me trying to grab some humanity before it gets completely uberized. 


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About the Author: Philip Maher

Philip Maher is a consultant and photojournalist. He has managed international communication projects for more than 20 years, taking him to more than 80 countries. His twitter is @mercytraveller.
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