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Automation - The Undoing of Hospitality

learning how to talk

Returning from an assignment in Salisbury, I decided to stop off at Fleet Services on the M3 (the last refuge of hope for many, before the dreaded M25 motorway around London) and indulge in a McDonalds hamburger. Here, I was greeted, not by a smiling face, initially, but by a bank of unavoidable screens, encouraging me to place my order via a keypad. Having obtained my order from a relatively dis-interested server, I looked around, only to see a room full of people with their focus almost entirely on a small screen.

This caused me to reflect. I first encountered this, returning from Amsterdam, where KLM make - sorry, "encourage" - you to use the self-service check-in. This was a few years ago, before I decided that flying was a far too miserable experience to be undertaken on anything approaching a regular basis. TESCO and other supermarkets provide self service checkouts and if you want to have your grocery items checked by a human being... well, the "one in front" policy seems to have quietly gone out the window. Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport (aka London Airport) is littered with these self-service machines and of course, many people buy what they need, online.

This age of convenience does suit many, I grant you that. What concerns me, is that by having so much of our daily lives confined to a keyboard or touch-screen, many of the up and coming generations are failing to learn some of those life-skills which are so vital to promoting a vibrant society - and ironically, that main life-skill is the ability to communicate.

Many facets of our daily lives may be automated and driven towards self-service but in so doing, we remove opportunities to communicate with others. To interact with strangers and so, to learn how to communicate with people outside of our immediate family and as to "friends", we may be able to send them message by various mechanical means, though if ever face to face, the challenge becomes too great to the extent that actual human contact may be avoided.

As far as air travel is concerned and increasingly, even with hotels, there is perhaps, a need to step back from this advance of automation. We have seen and are seeing increasingly, situations where unruly passengers are causing aircraft to divert and if hotels elect to pursue the de-humanisation of hospitality, then unruly hotel guests could become an unwanted feature of stays away from home. Airlines as well as hotels (and of course, others) become the authors of their own problems. That by removing human interaction in many facets of daily life, we are removing the ability for younger generations to learn how to communicate directly with others, how to read expressions, how to phrase sentences to express what we want (or feel) in such a way as to avoid confrontation. We are creating isolation from the greater world and that is not a good thing.

I am reminded of the poem by W.H. Davies:

"What is this life, if full of care,

we have no time to stand and stare,

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night."

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