Yesterday I had another experience with what I call the depersonalization of our lives. In other words, I had occasion to try getting information via machines, namely, the computer and the telephone. I wanted to find out how to get from here to there via bus. I tried getting the information by means of the internet first. I thought the task was a simple one, consisting of a series of brief statements and questions:
I live in X. I want to go to Y. Can your bus take me there? Where can I board it? At what times? How much does it cost? Simple.
I tried to get the answers to my questions, but to no avail. I found a web site filled with beautifully constructed pages complete with voluminous information that eventually led me nowhere. I spent about a half hour at that endeavor and gave up. I did get a telephone number. Good, I thought. I’ll try that. Alas, the telephone led me to menus containing lists of questions to which I did not care to know the answers. I gave up there, too, but only temporarily. I rested, took care of other tasks and then, fortified with rest and a cup of coffee, reentered the fray. I again attacked the lists and I persisted. I eventually got the information I needed—from a person. Actually, two people, for I found that two separate bus companies were involved in this endeavor.
I don’t do well getting information from machines. I’m aware that all machines are programmed by people. Machines, therefore, should dispense information in much the same way people do—right? It doesn’t seem to work that way. Perhaps there is something built into machines that automatically distorts the reasoning power of people. That’s one possibility. Another is that the people who program machines do not think like most people. Perhaps they are a breed apart and have become conditioned to think like machines or do so naturally. For these reasons the method for getting information might already be corrupted before it gets into the machine.
I’ve put some thought to this and come up with a line of reasoning. We live in an age in which we have a plethora of information, much of it generated by machines and more, it seems, than we can successfully handle. We are trying to solve that difficulty in the most efficient ways we can find. Hence the use of machines. In the process we have become enamored with the prospect of successfully handling information and with the machines themselves. As a result, the handling of information has become more important than the people for whom it is being handled. People are out; machines are in. And so we have the depersonalization of our lives. Is that an improvement?
There is another possibility and that is that I just don’t think like most people. Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that I simply don’t think like a machine. Maybe in time I will. Maybe that will solve my problem.