I recently traveled to NYC. Before our return flight home, my husband and I decided to grab a bite and a beverage at LaGuardia to kill some time, rather than sit at the gate. As we approached the seating at the bar, I could feel confusion setting in. At each seat and behind each placemat, I saw an ipad. Fortunately, my husband was familiar with this set up and he was able to explain what purpose these ipads served. As you can see in the photo, the staff behind the bar is there to serve you, just not in the traditional way we are all accustomed to. There are three icons, PLAY-DRINK-EAT. If you want to play some free games while you dine, there you go! If you'd like a beverage, you hit the drink icon and a menu appears. You make your selection, tap the place your order button, proceed to the check out, and then you swipe your card in the black contraption just slightly to the right of each ipad. This same process applies to a food order. So, pretty simple and easy, right? Straight forward, efficient, you are in control, push the button you want, bada boom, bada bing, and there ya have it. This is not too dissimilar from other establishments, Panera, McDonalds, fast service kiosks to avoid lines and get your order in quickly. I'm familiar with this. I've seen it. I'm not necessarily a fan, but I get it.
What you can't see in this photo is the couple seated to the right of us and the woman to the left of us. Both parties walked up to the bar and you could see the confusion begin to set it. The woman to our left was probably in her late fifties. The couple to our right, was likely in their seventies. I quietly observed what would happen next. Normally, when you approach a bar, you are greeted with a hello, a menu, and what would you like? But, this wasn't happening. In fact, three staff members behind the bar were wearing ear buds. The couple then asked, how do we order food and a drink? No one responded. My husband proceeded to explain how it works. They laughed (in a way that suggested we old folks don't get it), rolled their eyes (in a way that suggested, this seems so silly ), and thanked my husband for explaining. Meanwhile, the woman to our left asked the staff the same question: How do I order food and a drink? This time, a staff member responded. He seemed a bit annoyed at the question, but he wasn't completely rude. She was very vocal...."what do I do with this thing? I'm so confused. Am I doing it right?" ..all the while, with a chipper, sunny, and very willing to learn disposition. The staff member spent quite a bit of time explaining to her how it all worked. In fact, it took him more time to explain how to use the ipad verses if she had placed her order the traditional and I suppose what will at some point be the archaic way.
You can certainly draw your own conclusions and opine about these modern advances in society today. I realize everything with regard to technology has it's advantages and disadvantages. Technology has it's intended use, and in the blink of an eye, it can be morphed into something it was never designed to be used for. What I saw in my NYC airport experience, quite frankly, saddened me. I understand the ipads are there to expedite a quick and painless fulfilling of a need....hungry, thirsty, click and go. But these are the things in our culture today that worry me in terms of the breakdown of interpersonal connection and human to human contact and interactions. When people travel, it's nice to belly up to the bar, talk about where you are from or where you are headed, exchange stories, and get to know people you might never have met had you not traveled and most likely, people you won't ever see again. What also disturbs me, is how horribly unapproachable ( the wearing of ear buds ) the staff was, how uncomfortable they were when asked for assistance, how bordering on the brink of "put out" they were to have to deal with the confusion, and they gave a message that said how inept the customer was at not understanding how to place an order. Being a former waitress, bartender, and restaurant owner, I can't think of a better industry where you engage with people. You are in the business of people. The conversations I had during those years and the amount of people I interacted with are priceless. This is an example of how we "practice" the art of communicating without even realizing we are doing it. This is being taken away from us, and you wonder why I am concerned for our future leaders. Look at the young man in the photo above, and tell me if he is one of the MANY that will struggle with verbal and non verbal communication in the future, that is, if he doesn't struggle with it already. #keeptalking