Where Have All the People Gone?

Robotic Terminal C – Newark Airport

What? What is going on here??? We walked towards our gate in Newark Airport’s Terminal C – a terminal we never use – and I gasped. Tablets* to the right of me. Tablets to the left of me. Tablets on tables. Tablets at work stations. It had already pissed me off that United had us check in on a tablet. I of course asked for a person and eyes were rolled. Really, a person will be weighing and checking in my suitcase. Couldn’t the same person also check me in, scan my passport and talk to me? Tablets were everywhere – in every nook and cranny. Ohmmm – let us all stare at and pay homage to a silent tablet. Talk? Why would anyone bother to talk? Giggle about the characters in the queue with the woman standing next to you. Chat with a stranger about places unknown. Engage in conversation. Who would want to do that? I would. That’s who – ME!

Why have I not noticed this dehumanization of travel before? I am sure the tablet phenomena did not just happen overnight. How useful these little lonely centers are. One can order food – will that soon be delivered by a robot? Or perhaps play a solitary game. Log on and check what ever needs checking. Where the frig are we – at a freaking chain restaurant with fewer and fewer wait staff and consistency so boring that I cringe? Yup, just what our culture needs, robotic waiting areas, another way to ignore each other. There was a time when young people were sent off to do a European tour as a way to stretch their horizons. Letters of introduction were carried to far away places and young people would gulp, knock on a door, hand over the letter and hope that someone would welcome them. A conversation would ensue. Of course, all wore morning coats and top hats but hey the idea was a good one.

I’m a cultural dinosaur. If a store no longer has a cashier for me to chat with and expects me to self-checkout, I leave the stuff and go somewhere else. I am perfectly capable of using the scanner and sticking my credit card in the correct slot. I just won’t do it. Part of the joy of traveling, shopping, exploring are the people I meet. People are what make a new country interesting. Conversations are the cultural connection. Don’t you dare tell me I can text, e-mail, tweet or otherwise maintain a wi-fi connection. That is not a connection. It is a wi-fi wall between myself and other people. No one knows if I am being smarmy, sarcastic, ironic or honest. Real connection is seeing the smile, hearing the laughter, seeing the sadness in the other person’s eyes or getting pissed off at the tone of voice. Voice – I want to hear the voices.

When we got to where we were going, I looked around the very small international airport and sighed. Here too were the bolted down tablets – not as many – but scattered about encouraging isolation. If you are in an airport and see a woman in her second, hmm or is it third, act with tears slowly dripping down her cheeks staring at the robotic world. Go and talk to her. It will be me.

Ci vediamo.

*Full disclosure – I have had an iPad tablet for years and years. I love them and use one often for writing, reading, researching etc. I use them when I am not in a restaurant, not at the dinner table with pals, not in a social setting and not when I can strike up a great conversation with a stranger.

Check out our new permanent page – Nonna’sĀ Events! There you can find out about all the cool stuff we are involved in like Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo or language classes at Pintadera in Sardinia.