What is progress? A recent experience of mine when trying to check in my bag at the New Delhi airport got me thinking about interfacing with people Vs interfacing with technology. Gate P to many is a perfect example of how technology is making things simpler and faster. Not for me though, instead it was a reminder of how much we are losing touch with human connections.
I strode into the terminal and paused briefly before the big screen to find my flight number. Gate H, it appeared was my destination. I walked briskly towards it wondering how serpentine the queue was going to be. “Not too bad”, I said to myself, on seeing about 20 people in line. As I was about to enter the taped-off area, an airline attendant stopped me. “Where are you going, sir?” “To Bangalore” I replied. “Please go to gate P” he said and turned away.
Not pausing to ask why (which in retrospect I should have done) I headed off toward P. It was the very last counter at one end of T3. As I turned the corner, I was confronted by a fair amount of confused-looking people trying to navigate the bag drop process (without any people to help them).
Counter P is the new ‘Drop-and-fly, self-baggage drop’ section that was opened on June 26th, 2023. I remember reading about it and the promise of saving 15 to 20 minutes in the process being automated, sounded alluring. Maybe it’s just me, and my old-school thinking, but on this particular morning I was not keen to navigate a new digital experience and wonder if my bag would follow me to Bangalore or head off to some exotic destination (in case I accidentally hit the wrong buttons).
I did a quick U-turn and headed back to counter H in search of a human being to engage with. I wish the person who pushed me towards counter P had offered me the choice instead of just directing me there. Before he could pack me off to counter P again, I made my way into the queue at H. by this time, it had become even shorter, possibly because everyone was being sent to P. In a matter of minutes, I was checked in and assured that my flight was on time by the person behind the desk.
A smiling face and a conversation with someone from the airline are somethings I had taken for granted. From entering the airport to checking in, digital interfaces are now a reality. I even saw a recent video by Forbes about pilotless planes. Maybe that is the next phase of losing touch with humanity and getting even more disconnected from reality.
This episode, which I am now calling “please go to gate P” got me thinking about what the world now calls progress. Is progress only about making things faster and more efficient? People are unpredictable and moody. They make mistakes. Ff we get technology to do what people do, it becomes so much more efficient. But people are also warm and funny and creative and engaging. Removing people from the equation and making life a series of engagements with screens is disconnected us from each other. Buy a bottle of water from a vending machine. Order a meal through a screen interface and swipe a card to pay. Self-service. Self-bag drop. Self. Self. Self. Sounds like a lonely road ahead awaits us as a people.
The serendipitous conversations while travelling are a thing of the past. “Mr. Dey, what would you like to have…” all is not lost I smile to myself, happy to be interrupted as I stop jotting down these thoughts on my phone.” A coffee would be lovely”, I say and a smiling face hands me a cup.
I am happy to pay for the privilege of human interaction. Maybe the time has come when I will have to do just that. Pay extra to engage with a person. If there are others like me, then we will all be heading away from counter P in search of People. A slower, more meaningful life, filled with human connections sounds like progress to me.
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