When I was 16 I worked at a Phillips 66 gas station. I made $1.00 per hour; if I worked 12 hours I made 12 dollars.
The station had one pump for regular (leaded) and one for ethyl. Mr. Cummins and Mr. Miller of Columbus, Indiana had not yet perfected the marketing of the diesel engine. Gasoline prices ranged from 25¢ to 30¢ per gallon.
My boss, the owner, and I were the only workers. We would check and air up the tires, check the oil, put distilled water in the battery, have the customer re-start the vehicle so we could check the transmission fluid, wash the windshield and headlights, whisk broom out the floorboards, fill the gas tank and, if asked, would put the vehicles up on our lone hydraulic lift and apply new grease through the fittings. We did not accept tips but we did talk with every customer.
Whenever an out-of-town car or pickup or tanker came through we would tell them where they could get a bowl of chili or a chicken fried steak. We also gave directions to delivery locations or residences.
Yesterday my car told me my tires were low and that I should take it in for service before I drove another 2,800 miles. The computer did not offer to tell me where I could buy a bowl of chili but, if I had asked it, it would have.
For some reason these memories and events brought E-filing to mind. If you happened to read last week’s column you may recall our local legal system will soon be virtually paperless and, pretty much, human contact-less.
I am not sure of the exact time frame our world began its inexorable march toward exchanging ones and zeros for “Hellos” and “May I help yous?” It was probably either when self-service gas stations or drive through fast food places appeared or maybe when television allowed us to watch ball games alone in our living rooms. Or it might have been when Wikipedia replaced conversation. Of course, Wikipedia is my best friend when I am writing these columns.
As a youngster I sought solitude in long hikes out onto the prairie. Now I am almost completely alone in every group I encounter. If I crave an exchange of human speech I must first send the people next to me a text then try to remain focused until they deign to say something. Other than cashing the checks for Christmas, I am not sure our grandchildren make the connection of us to them. The thank yous come by text. On the other hand, my Grandfather would have thought he had found heaven early if we had had computers then. He thought grandchildren were an unnecessary disturbance, better neither seen nor heard. Some people just wind up in the wrong century.
Be that as it may, we are discussing the irreversible conquest of human interaction by technology. The salient feature of contemporary society appears to be the general desire to isolate itself from itself. I ask you to examine your own world. In mine, I no longer need to leave my chambers to either attend or teach continuing judicial education. Banking is on-line. Taxes are paid electronically. One can get instructions on everything from curing a hangnail to impeaching the president via the Internet without talking to another person. Even toll bridges and highways are self-serve.
We used to look to our colleges as places where people of different backgrounds would mingle and appreciate one another’s views and cultures. However, even the “best” colleges now offer degrees on-line. When our son was in the Army stationed in the Middle East he started and completed his Masters of Business Administration and never saw a professor or a classroom.
Surely, before long, everyone in America will be homeschooled in the sense no child will need to leave her or his house from kindergarten to doctoral programs. And, unless the Russians interfere, soon all voting will be done without the need for polling places.
I guess we still may want to maintain contact to continue procreation. However, we artificially inseminate everything from pandas to pigs. Maybe we will eventually be able to just “mail it in” after we get married via Skype.
Well, I have to go. This column is carried by several digital newspapers and I need to email it in before the deadline or I’ll get a nasty note from some device somewhere.