Call Me Archaic, But I Still Like Doing Things the Old Way

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Call me archaic, but I still like doing things the old way,

I liked it better when people ran the world instead of machines and self-serve counters.

Take my local library, for example. When we first started going there after we moved into town, nothing was automated. In fact, the library still used card files. Each book had a card assigned to it that was kept in a pouch just inside the cover. To search for a book, you went through the drawers of cards located in the center of the library – each drawer marked alphabetically and each card marked with the Dewey Decimal System so you could locate it on the shelves. When you wanted to check a book out, you went to the front desk where the librarian stamped the card with the due date and reinserted it in the pouch.


Perhaps. But there was an opportunity to enter into conversation with others, albeit in a whisper.  The librarians were familiar faces, and many of them lived right in our neighborhood. It was a gathering place for the people of the city, and I liked being called by name when I entered.

Now, my library has rows of self-checkouts and far fewer librarians. Sometimes I’ll get a “hello” when I enter. Then, I go to a computer to search for the book I want. The library has been remodeled so that we can go to the shelf and retrieve the books we’ve had transferred from other libraries instead of asking for them at the checkout counter.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love our local library. There still are a couple of “old” faces among the new ones, and the remodel does offer awesome spaces to sit and read. It’s still a gathering place to a degree.

Yet, it feels different.

I had a similar experience with one of our local grocery stores. When they installed self-checkout aisles, the store took on a different atmosphere. Folks lined up with their groceries, most facing directly ahead, and few speaking to anyone including the persons they were shopping with. They checked out and bagged their groceries without saying a word to anyone. Perhaps the change of atmosphere changed the minds of the powers that be. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the same store had pulled all the self-checkouts and reinstalled cashier-operated checkouts.

I was thrilled!

It’s not just my small Midwestern town that’s joined the automation trend. It’s small towns and big towns all over the country. All over the world.

I’m not a fan.

I understand that automation is more efficient and that it can save mega-bucks. But I also understand that it takes away something essential from our lives.

Human interaction.

True, we can have interaction through cell phones, social media and communication apps like Skype and Google Hangout. But, it’s not the same as speaking to someone face to face, looking into their eyes, experiencing their gestures and reactions and feeling their presence before you.

What’s more, it’s not the same as feeling Christ’s presence before you.

We are all made in the image and likeness of God, and that includes our fellow patrons at the library, grocery store, bank, or gas station. It includes those who work in those places as well.

Our Lord told us, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40)

And St. Paul told us, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6)

Basically, what our Lord and the Apostle to the Gentiles is telling us is that, when we’re interacting with other human beings, we’re interacting with Christ. Or, at least we should assume so.

When we strip our day-to-day doings from the possibility of real-life contact, we strip ourselves of the benefit of connecting with other people, of experiencing their humanness (granted, for better or worse as I’ve seen with certain grumpy cashiers), and of the possibility to both serve and respond to the Christ in them.

If it becomes extreme, we may even strip ourselves of the sense of belonging and co-responsibility for, and co-dependency on, others.  

Go ahead. Call me archaic. But, I still like doing things the old way.