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Commentary: Kindness, human interaction lost with technology

At a Meijer in Royal Oak, Mich., a checkout machine keeps up with a shoppers’ purchases as they are scanned.

At a Meijer in Royal Oak, Mich., a checkout machine keeps up with a shopper’s purchases as they are scanned. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

In a digital age where getting in touch with our friends only takes a few taps on a keyboard, we’re still managing to lose touch with the people around us every day.

We are guilty of avoiding eye contact with friends and strangers alike and feigning deafness when shop and restaurant owners ask how we’re doing. We lose the skills of conversation by becoming dependent on texting and friendships fall through in the shuffle of missed or ignored messages.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The world could be more like the bank.

The bank is one of my favorite places in the world. It always has been, and it’s not because I’m some kind of money-loving Scrooge. I love the bank because it’s one of the few places where the employees always seem to be in a good mood.

When I was younger, the bank was the mysterious place with the big, locked silver door that I would get to go through when one of my parents brought me along to open their safety deposit box. It was the place with an endless supply of lollipops — a much better alternative to the other place with such a supply, the family doctor.

As I grew older and began going to the bank alone, the first thing I noticed was how friendly everyone was to me. I couldn’t make a five minute stop at the bank without at least three people telling me to have a good day, asking if I needed help or at least offering me a warm smile. When a teller paid me an unsolicited compliment, my entire day was brighter as a result and the act stuck with me, clearly.

But the decline of this human interaction I value so greatly is far-reaching and disappointing.

One day, I walked into the local branch of my bank to find the tellers had been replaced by machines. A manager still greeted me, but swiftly directed me to “try the new way to bank,” rather than deposit my check with a real, live human.

Don’t get me wrong ­— self serve options are convenient. I can create my own dessert concoction at a selection of frozen yogurt shops, scan and bag my own modest grocery load in mere minutes and have $20 cash in my hand after punching a few buttons on an ATM.

But where’s the human touch? Where’s the conversation, the niceties, the brief shared moments between strangers that can determine the course of a day?

Sometimes the most common niceties can come as a shock, but as someone who has been pegged as a Midwesterner in Washington, D.C., for asking a store greeter how they were doing — the simple gesture was that rare there, I was told — I’m proud to offer a friendly response to the people I interact with in a day.

With the concurrent rise in ways to communicate with someone electronically and decline in daily face-to-face conversations, I find it hard to believe these “convenient” advances are actually positive for society. In fact, part of me worries my generation will be the last to be able to hold a conversation, make eye contact and truly listen when someone is talking to them, because we’re the last generation that had to bother.

While widely disputed and misattributed, the simple phrase, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” rings a truth that should be heard around the world. As you never know what kind of impact you’re capable of having on a stranger, no matter how insignificant your interaction may seem, focus on being friendly and making a good impression to everyone you meet.

At the same time, hold dearly the chances to have real, meaningful interactions with people. There lies an invaluable skill that could easily be lost.

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