Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Catherine H: Language 18-23

Language limiters
Drive-thru, pay-at-pump, self-serve, debit card, ATM machine

Sunday morning on my way back to ETSU, I stopped at the bank, got gas, and picked up a cup of coffee at McDonald's. In my errands I encountered the above words/phrases. None of these phrases are particularly new or interesting, however taken together as a whole they exemplify a small pocket of our lives in which we now function in relative isolation that only a few years ago would have been filled with person-to-person encounters and conversation.
  • I have to admit I think the ATM machine is the best technological innovation is the last 30 years. I don't remember how I functioned without it. When I got cash Sunday morning I went to a bank that was not open, where I do not have an account, and I got cash. SOOO Convenient! I did not have to go in my local bank, engage in small talk, explain to the staff where I was going, and I didn't have to look at any graduation or new grandchildren pictures.
  • Drive-thru service eliminates physically walking into the restaurant and the possibility of incidental conversation with folks waiting in line or at surrounding tables. Drive-thru conversation with the order taker/ cashier and server is formulaic and stilted.
  • Self service at gas stations eliminates talking to the station attendant and with the pay-at-pump convenience you don't even have to go into the building. I have bought my gas at the same gas station for three years. I don't even know what the people who work there look like. Ten years ago I knew who owned the local station; I knew stories about their children; I knew where they went to church; I knew their medical history. I knew these things because I talked to them every time I bought gas.
The gain in these conveniences might be time but the loss is community. The small conversational encounters are important in their own right but cumulatively they build a network that I don't think we can really afford to lose.

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