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Of mice and machines: Human contact becoming rare

August 18, 2012
The Mining Journal

Self checkouts, online registration, drive-through lines at banks and pharmacies, a never-ending list of numbers you need to press to find the right customer representative. It seems like we have done everything humanly possible to cut ourselves off from each other, save locking ourselves in our homes 24 hours a day.

And the reality is, if you really wanted to, you probably could live a long, healthy life without ever once leaving your house. You can order everything you could possibly need online and have it delivered right to your door. Groceries, clothing, books, electronics, even furniture can all be ordered and paid for with the click of a mouse.

The Internet is something that can be incredibly helpful to people who may not be able to live independently otherwise. I can see the benefits of ordering your groceries online, especially for someone older who may not be able to make a trip to the market very often.

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But what I don't understand is the push to take humans out of basically every interaction in which they used to be a staple. I made a trip with my family down to Green Bay to do some shopping when I was still in high school. My family and I lived there for about four years when I was in elementary school. On the way out of town, we stopped at our old grocery store for a snack and went through the checkout line of my mother's favorite cashier.

She was an older lady who was missing one of her fingers and had that deep raspy, voice that some women get after a lifetime of smoking. She was as much a part of going to the grocery store when I was a child as was the one hand on the cart at all times rule. But these days, you can go into a store and get out without ever speaking to anyone. Just go through the self checkout, whip out a credit card and you're done.

I almost never use the self checkout. I'd rather go through the line where a human being is working and say "hello" and ask how they are doing. I look at it is as job security.

Even in places where they advise me it would be easier just to do whatever I was doing online, like changing my address down at the post office, I'd still rather go to the building and talk to someone. I'd rather fill out the form with a pen and paper, not a keyboard and screen.

I have a better sense of community when I head out into the world to interact with people. I like seeing the same faces at the line of checkouts in the grocery store. I like chatting with my mailman. I like taking my paycheck to the bank and depositing it with the help of a teller who knows my name.

Maybe I'm just old fashioned, an old soul trapped in the body of a 26-year-old, but I'm of the belief that the constant connection we have to other people with cell phones and internet is actually making us withdraw from each other more and more.

So I recommend that the next time you have the ability to do a simple, daily task without having to speak with another person, don't make that choice. Instead, choose to go through the cashier line, choose to go into the bank, choose to talk with someone and not interact with a machine.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jackie Stark is a Marquette resident and a staff reporter at The Mining Journal. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is



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