Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Coming to terms (or not) with an automated world

I love the library in our town. It’s one of my favorite places, whether I’m accompanying my grandchildren (50 books are the limit; 50!), or going by myself with no specific book in mind. Browsing, we call it. A good word.

Since this is a small town, I usually run into someone I know. I come so often, the librarians are familiar faces. One is my friend. So, in spite of the encouragement to be quiet, the library has become a social watering hole as well as a place to get books. That’s all good.

This past year our library introduced an innovation that favors efficiency in checking out books—an automatic scanner. As the librarian showed me how to use it, she told me that I would never again have to waste time standing in line, never again have to have a person wait on me from behind the counter. The scanner does it all, in much less time, automatically spitting out my list of checked-out books, plus due dates. Nifty. Quick.

I tried it and felt that glow of accomplishment I usually get when I can make a machine work for me (which doesn’t always happen). But something in my spirit hesitated, and I’ve been pondering my hesitation ever since.

I’m thinking of the grocery store I usually go to and the new, efficient scanner for those who do not want to stand in line and have a person wait on them. I’m thinking of the efficient e-tickets and the automatic check-in at airports, especially handy if I’m running a bit late. And of course, online shopping saves time and interaction with slow people, who can be grouchy at times.

Some aspects of this I like better than others. I am one of those weird women who hate malls, so the online shopping bit is great, as long as I don’t need to try on something. And who likes waiting in line in any circumstance?

Well, sometimes I do, actually. If I’m not in a hurry, striking up a conversation with the stranger ahead of me feels good. Even talking with the checker, if he’s not having a bad day, can be stimulating. If he’s in a grouchy mood and I’m not, being pleasant is a challenge I enjoy taking on. (Can I make him smile?)

So…I’ve decided not to use the library scanner, even when the desk is empty and all the librarians are in the back room binding books or whatever it is they do when they’re not waiting on people like me who won’t use the scanner. That means I may disturb someone, making her come out from the back room just to wait on me. That may be selfish on my part. Even so….

There’s something good about having a real live person at the end of my library visit.

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