Home > Take Off E-Mail this page || Print this page

Oh, For A Human Touch

Pravin Sathe gets an overdose of technology on his US trip

As an Indian, let me begin by telling you about the things that I do not miss when travelling abroad, especially in the United States. I don’t miss what we call public transport. No, I definitely don’t miss the 9 am wrestling match to scramble aboard the Churchgate local. I don’t miss the filth strewn along the roads. I don’t miss the dogs which chase me as I return home at 1.30 in the night. I could go on in this vein, but I suppose the point is clear.

What I do miss, during my travels abroad, is the human touch. Literally, as in someone touching you. I would not be exaggerating too much if I say that during my recent trip to the United States, I was pining for someone to touch me.

Before you jump into the conclusion that the country is full of racists, don’t. I am talking about machines making human interaction obsolete. At every step of my way, when I expected a smiling human being, what I got was a button with circuits attached.

At toll nakas of interstate freeways, intelligent collection baskets recognised how many coins I had dropped in and then allowed me to pass. If you are a regular traveller, scanners check the bar coded piece of sticker on the windscreen and sends you statements home after your advance payments are exhausted. If you are lucky, you might come across one or two lanes for the technologically challenged.

Parking Lot entrances had a machine which handed me a slip, registered my entrance time and then as I left collected what was due. Similarly at railway stations. No serpentine queues. Ticket dispensing machines not only handed me my ticket but also were smart enough to count how much I had given and returned me the change. And, of course, when I was thirsty and started searching for a nimbu paniwallah, I found soda dispensing machines at every corner.

Lest you think that the whole nation hates human labour, let me make it clear that there are sound economic reasons for such a surfeit of technology. People are costly in the US. Middle level managers in a project can cost any company up to a million dollars annually. Even assembly line unskilled labour needs to be paid starting rates of around US$ 6 per hour which adds up to US$ 50 per shift per person. That’s about Rs 2500 a day in Indian currency.

It is cheaper and more convenient for business to invest in technology. Some salient reasons why:

  • Machines can work for 24 hours
  • Machines don’t feel hungry
  • Machines don’t get sloshed on weekends and bunk office on Mondays.
  • Machines don’t sue you for ‘equal opportunities’ misdemeanors
  • Machines don’t ask for a raise every year
  • Machines don’t need health insurance (a horribly expensive thing in the US)

Be that as it may, I still miss the human touch. Wonder when they will make a machine which gives you that.