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I am not a robot

Steve Campbell

Some people join law enforcement agencies, and capture bad guys who perform ugly crimes. According to TV, they catch them. I’m pretty sure they always catch them, because they can get DNA results in a heartbeat; dental records like the dentist has nothing else to do; and facial recognition at the click of a switch.
I do not do that. Of course, either can they, because that’s fiction. I don’t track down killers, but I am at war with something way more important: I hate stupidity.
We have very few homicides in the County, but we have lots of stupidity. Not your fault. You don’t create the stupidity, you are just victims of it.
My case in point is that computer screen in which you are to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and without a notary public or a justice of the peace present, that you are not a robot.
Stupidity. First you are given blurry images of streetlights. Tick all the boxes which have streetlights. Some of them cross into other boxes, so you need to determine whether that belongs in the streetlight box or not. If you’re wrong, you get a whole other set of images: Find the bicycles.
The thing is, a robot could actually nail this exercise down in probably 5 microseconds, because they’re robots, you see? This is a stupid ‘make work’ project for us dullard humans, while the computers laugh at us. Assuming computers can laugh. Evidence shows they’re having a ball messing with humans.
This is what robots can do. Faster than you can. Ponder that.

When rules rule
The world is full of stupidity, because rules rule, and common sense is at the back of the bus. I just came back from New Orleans, a city with no rules, unless you kill someone in the street, which is frowned upon by local police. Other than that, anything goes.
I visited many bars each day, and was asked for ID twice. I was refused a beer, because I do not carry my driver’s licence or passport when I’m out on the streets. “Look at me! I’m over 60! I haven’t been asked for ID in (sadly) 40 years! Check out the white mustache! No 18-year-old can grow this!”
But no. Next time I had ID, so I could get a Miller Lite for my morning trip to my first bar, which was a mile away.
I pointed out to the clerk at the counter that she was not yet an embryo before I hit drinking age, but she was unfazed. Rules are rules, even if they’re stupid.

Stuck in Burger King Hell
Everything is changing, and not for the better. After my flight, in which peanuts are no longer distributed, and other snacks containing corn or other potentially toxic substances were no longer allowed on flights, I landed, and headed out on the 401, which was delightfully packed with hundreds of vehicles, stopped for no apparent reason at regular intervals.
At Newcastle, I decided to take a break, and get a Junior Burger as my first meal of the day. A sign read: ‘Please use the kiosk to order.’ Half of them worked. The large crowd waiting to order dutifully went to the kiosk, poking the screen, backing up, poking and more poking. The kid in front of me said: “It wants me to order the Whopper combo, but I just want a Whopper.” Robot kiosk wouldn’t let him out. I told him: “Hit cancel and start again,” which he did. Then it asked him: “What toppings would you like?’ He punched in all the regular stuff, and added extra pickles. “We’re sorry, you have exceeded the six toppings available for this item.” Then it booted him into the fries/onion ring category, and would not let him out. He turned to his dad, “I just want a Whopper.”
Then I looked to the counter. No-one was standing there. That huge lineup was still burrowing their way through the touch-screen menu. I looked to the back to the production room, and no-one was making anything.
So I walked up to the counter and asked for a Whopper Jr. Paid cash, walked away.
This is not progress. This is stupidity. This is not ‘Make things easier’. This is ‘Tie up those jerks who want to order so we can get a bit of a breather.’ And, “Ain’t technology great! No customers! They’re all over there. Poking away.”
Seriously, I don’t know what this is, or why it is. I do know that it is chaos. The kid I saw was still trying desperately to place his order when I left the building. There’s something very wrong with this.
I’m sure some BK executive super-brain thought this would be a great idea. I’m also sure he never visited one of his sites.

We’re caught in a time when technology is great. And we love it. But these great advances were taken over by people who want to use us and steer us. Make us do what they want us to do. That is why we are the victims.
This is why that line-up of genuine people in Burger King dissipated, because they dutifully went to the electronic kiosks to try many times to order something that – in a normal world – you would do with a human, who would take your order and give you a number. Bing, bang, boom, your cheeseburger arrives.
This is an example of how technology does not drive us forward, into an easy new world – but backwards into a world that no longer works.
Technology is great. I use it every day at my work. But it does not use me. And that’s a major step toward where we’re heading in the world outside my shop. I tell my computer: “Do this,” and it does. Out there, the computer says: “Do this,” and we comply. This is not good.
Pretty soon, you will not be sure enough to tick the box that asks: I am not a robot. I know I’m not a robot, because I check each day in the mirror, to see if my eyes look like C3PO from Star Wars. Thankfully, my eyes look like little swollen slits from staying awake late at night writing columns for your enjoyment, with copious amounts of rum for my enjoyment.

The problem is: We are not robots. But everything else is becoming robots. This is technology run amuck. It started with bank machines, in which tellers were instructed to send people to punch on screens, instead of that ridiculous ‘old way’ in which we talked to humans. Now I can’t order a cheeseburger, while the human servers stand idle, waiting for puzzled hungry people to ‘go forward,’ ‘back up’ and ‘clear … start again’. This is not progress.
We always wanted the world of The Jetsons – Shout at the computer: “T-Bone steak, well done,” and it magically appeared. This is not that.
This is, quite simply, taking something easy, and making it really, really hard. If you wish to reply to this column, go to Steve.com, and try many, many times to reach me, because that site does not exist. Then ask Amazon to send you a cheeseburger from Los Angeles. It will arrive before that poor kid figures out how to work the Burger King touch screen.

  • Steve Campbell is editor and publisher of County Magazine, and the author of several books, including The County Handbook: How to Survive in Prince Edward County.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Teena says:

    So … who’s the bright spark that decided we needed self-checking in The County’s Rexall, Metro and Foodland? Heads up, Guys – small town Ontario is disappearing rapidly as it is. Aren’t jobs hard enough to come by here?

  2. Karen I Smith says:

    Des Marcille used to say “Stupidity should be against the law”.
    It still isn’t, obviously.

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