I put my request for an absentee ballot in the mail. I was going to go to the post office to send it off, after emailing it last weekend, and maybe buy stamps. There was a machine, I could buy a 3$ stamp, and then put it in the slot for airmail. Took 30 seconds. Finding the post office took a bit longer, as nothing is on the ground floor in this country. You just have to know where it is: 10th floor of the mall. Between the movie theatre on the 9th, and a furniture store on the 15th. It’s unnerving.
I try going into stores to get things done sometimes, and half time time they will sell me something, and half the time they tell me I need to call someone, and then do something online, and then mail something and then call again.
I went to the PCCW, because I wanted to change my method of payment. She said I should call customer service on their phone. She couldn’t do it for me in the store. I had to make a phone call and talk to a hotline! I finally did this a week later, and they mailed me forms to fill out.
The post office is automated, and I have to call to get service because in person you can’t do anything.
Is automation better? Do we need less contact with humanity?
My students sometimes say they prefer texting their friends to face-to-face contact, because if they say something awkward they don’t have to respond. Thank goodness our technology is remedying our social problems for us.
Automation allows me to do things without ever talking to anyone for an extended period of time. This is a theme world wide, of course: automation. I can post a letter through a machine and it makes it almost as impersonal as email!
I have thought about this a lot this year, with technology and internet simultaneously creating distance and connections between people. I hate when someone answers a phone, or texts during dinner. But everyone does it. Are the norms changing? Am I just behind? Do the manners I was taught as a child in Texas have something to say about my technological habits? Are my table manners antiquated? Should I be able to answer texts during a meeting or dinner?
I hate it, so should you. It appears as though you don’t care about me or what we are doing. The norms are not changing; there are just a lot of rude people.
As Jennifer Egan says: “Everybody sounds stoned, because they’re e-mailing people the whole time they’re talking to you.” (A Visit From the Goon Squad is a great book… now I sound pretentious.)
The post office is automated. So I don’t have to deal with a person.
What if I want to deal with a person? I can… I suppose. But they might just be annoyed that they have to speak English and help me mail a single envelope.
In Turkey I always just handed them a stack of things to mail. They charged me some money, and I skedaddled. Sure, sometimes it didn’t work, they forgot postage, or it took 5 weeks to leave the country etc., but it mostly functioned! And I interacted with someone! In Turkish! kind of…
Is this interaction important? Is the difficulty of signing what you want to someone with whom you do not share a language important to me? Maybe.
The difficulty of living in a place with language barriers and questionable infrastructure is more exciting sometimes. “I hope the bus comes. Who knows if it will or not, usually at this time. I’ll wait a while.” or “Oh the internet doesn’t work again? Whoops, okay, I’ll read.” or “The power was reset 3 times today…Okay, I won’t cook for dinner. Sandwiches are fine.” or “The woman at the check out just told me something; I’ll pretend I understand and walk to the other counter… ” I got a book of coupons! Saved me 50 lira.
Sometimes context clues are the only thing you have. But here so many people speak English that there aren’t as many small victories. Ordering dinner is not a challenge when you order in English. When I can’t use English, and I get what I wanted: I won!!! I order here, and I get what I ordered. No luck. No skill. Just a regular meal. I fear I will never learn how to say “turşu suz” in Chinese, because I just won’t need it.
I probably also will never learn “send this letter to America!” Because let’s be honest, I am never going to go to the counter to mail a letter.
I will use the automated post and write about my existential laziness.