Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


The Display Continuum

The Game is Over – The Computers Won, Humans Lost…


We should have seen it coming, but the changes were so gradual and so subtle that it all happened without us taking much notice.   However, we cannot ignore the outcome any longer.  We humans have lost this game -- big time. 

Here’s what happened to me today to make me realize that the computers no longer find it necessary to hide their victorious plot.

winter pondI took two rather large packages of electronic equipment that I planned to send to a colleague in Canada to the local FedEx depot for shipment.  Since the boxes are quite substantial and since there was no great urgency, I told the lady behind the counter that I wanted to ship them by the cheapest method – namely by ground.  As usual, I had already taken the time to fill out the shipment form.  When I presented the boxes and the filled out form to her, her reply was something that should have been right out of the Twilight Zone. 

“I’m sorry sir, but if you want to do a ground shipment you will have to go back to your office, go online and enter the information on your computer.  Then, when you have done that, the computer will print out a customs form for you to fill out.” 

I stood there for a few seconds staring at her in disbelief.  I really wasn’t having a bad dream, was I?  “You mean to tell me that there is no way for me to do this here at your major facility?”  I asked, clearly showing my incredulity.  “No, sir.  You have to do it from your computer.” 

“So, what you are telling me is that I have to haul these boxes back home and request the forms from my computer?”   “Yes sir, that is correct.”  

“And then what do I do with these boxes after I have done that?”  

“Then you can bring them back here with the completed forms and we can accept them for shipment.”   

“You mean to tell me there is no way for me to get this shipment done in any other way?”  

“Not, if you want to ship by ground.   If you want to ship them by any other method it will be MUCH more expensive,” came the final and unequivocal response.      

As I left, lugging my heavy boxes, I could tell that my final outburst stating that I would never do business with FedEx again had absolutely no effect.  It didn’t elicit anything – not even as much as a barely perceptible shrug.

While still fuming about this unbelievably stupid situation, I went across the street to the nearest Home Depot.  I needed to pick up a few small plumbing items in order to make an adapter so that I can use my digital camera with my Mitutoyo microscope.  (Perhaps this use of fifty-cent plumbing parts to do high-grade optical mounts is the topic for a future column.)

As usual I took my handful of items to the checkout area.   But this time the only checkout registers open were the self-service ones.  Having had some “wonderful” experiences with these registers in the past, I basically refuse to use them.  So I walked up to the one clerk who was watching over four of these marvelous machines and said,  “Here, you do it.  I don’t seem to be able to make these machines work for me.”   The response was not quite as helpful as I would have hoped.  

“Sorry, this is the self-service area.  If you want to have someone help check you out, you will have to go to the other end of the store where we have a register open for contractors.”

So I did, and after one more wonderful shopping experience, I was finally on my way home.  As I drove, I could see the big boxes -- still in the back of the car – every time I looked in the rearview mirror.  What a wonderfully productive day!   Over an hour wasted so that a computer could be satisfied -- and I wasn’t even done yet.  In fact, I had made no progress at all.  I still had the boxes, and I still didn’t know how much more time it would take me to now do all the online searching to finally get what this “system” demanded.  

Well, there is at least one other alternative.  Tomorrow, I’m going to try UPS and see if their computer is as stubborn and unforgiving as the one at FedEx.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and the two computers have not yet gotten together to compare notes and make our lives equally frustrating.  But I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.  The fix is in.  The computers have won and we have all been relegated to do their bidding.  The human touch and customer service – gone except for a few small remaining pockets of resistance. 

As I drove home, I decided that my New Year’s resolution for 2007 would be to try to do my part to keep the gentle flame of humanity burning for as long as possible.  Maybe -- just maybe -- if enough of us do this, the concept of humanity and the warmth of human interactions will survive.  It seems almost subversive to entertain such thoughts, but such reversals have happened before and perhaps they will happen again.

With that hopeful thought, I send each of you my personal wish for a successful and productive 2007.  And if you are ever desirous of having a real human being respond to a message you send, you can be assured that if you write to me through this site, directly by e-mail at, or call me at 425-898-9117, that it will be my pleasure to send you a personal response.