Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Reality of Technology

Have you ever watched something on tv or in a movie that was futuristic and thought: "gee, that's pretty cool, I wish we had that now"?

When faced with it in reality, perhaps it wasn't such a good idea.

Case in point, I had to go deposit a check. Yes, in today's "direct deposit" society, I had a check, I need to actually drive to a bank and deposit a slip of paper. Blame it on technology for not getting its records updated quick enough when getting a new job (in this case, the hubby's new employer).

There was a new branch of my bank that recently opened, and since it was close to a Starbucks (in contractor lingo, that would be known as "Starbuckability"), I decided to go there. After finding it on a very inconvenient split highway where you have to turn right, find a light and turn around in order to get back to the Starbucks, I pulled in and thought it looked pretty spartan. A brick block building, hardly any windows.

I walk in, expecting to hear the chatter of people, the hustle and bustle of everyday banking, and was taken aback by the fact that it was stone silent, had no chairs, no usual bank-like things. A receptionist was sitting off to the side, and she ignored me. In front of me was the typical counter with all the bank slips needed, but there were no tellers.

I stood there for a moment, wondering if I walked into the wrong building, and then it dawned on me. In the back, there were about 7 cubby spaces. Each cubby space had a phone, a little tv monitor and a pneumatic tube like you find in drive through banks.

As I filled out the deposit slip, I watched as a man wandered to a cubby, stuffed his papers in a tube, waited for a moment, then the "informational scroll" on the little tv screen was replaced by a floating, smiling head that greeted him.

Holy crap! This was straight out of some sci-fi movie or something. Not only are we becoming a xenophobic society thanks to home banking and e-bay, but now when we actually go to a bank, we don't even get to interact with a human, we're interacting with a tv screen.

I meandered to a cubby, not really sure where to go, and using the bathroom stall rule, I chose a cubby one cubby away from the guy already there, stuffed my check and deposit slip into the tube, and sure enough, a smiling young man popped up before I could read just how many quills the average porcupine has.

"How are you?" He asked. I wanted to say "feeling really oogie talking to a screen", but I gave him the usual, automatic "fine". Then I watched the top of his head as he apparently retrieved my papers, did whatever it is they do with them, and then stuffed the receipt back in the tube. "Thank you, have a nice day" he chirped, then disappeared. Poof, gone.

My tube returned promptly with my receipt. I felt somewhat like those people you see in the movies that are talking to prisoners. Apparently the little phone is for discrete conversations, or for the hard of hearing or something. There's just something lacking about not being close to a human. You lose all of your power. No more leaning in to let them know that you aren't happy about standing in line for hours, or that they deposited your check in the wrong account and bounced all of your bill payments. They are safe and sound somewhere (perhaps the nuclear blast-proof basement) and happy because they know you can't be intimidating to them. They don't have to wonder if I'm a machine gun toting loon out to rob them... they aren't there.

With my deposit slip in hand, I turned to the first guy and thought outloud "I bet they aren't wearing any pants". I was also tempted to bring a marker and draw a mustache on the screen or something.

I left, feeling somewhat cheated and confused. The receptionist was still oblivious to the world, no "have a nice day" from a real person.

I still feel strange about the whole thing, but at least I'm not going to catch SARS from a teller.