Impersonal Humanity

Impersonal (adj.) aloof, distant, remote, detached, isolated

Humanity (n.) people, human race, civilization, humankind, persons

Travelling on the bus to work one morning, I am struck by the efficiency of the new ticketing system. All that is required is the swipe of a plastic card upon entry, and again upon exiting the bus. No queues on this chilly winter day – no fumbling for coins, no loose change, no printed ticket. It also requires zero interaction with the bus driver.

From my perch on the first row, I watch with interest as the morning crowd boards the bus. I immediately observe a marked difference between the up-to-date passengers who utilize the new Public Transport System, and the unconventional passengers who pay in cash.

A young woman bounces on board, backpack slung over her shoulder and earphones firmly in place. She flicks her card at the digital scanner then swishes down the aisle to find a seat. She need not spare even the slightest glance for the older gentleman sitting behind the wheel; he is simply a robot of convenience should she require assistance. A gorilla in a tutu could be driving the bus, and she wouldn’t even know it.

Next in line is a teenage boy. He casually steps on board, greeting the driver with a grin and a $5 note. “Morning.” The driver returns the grin and the greeting, punching in the numbers on his cash box. “Howsit goin’, Mate?”

Transaction complete. They nod to one another, the boy receives his ticket and change, and meanders down the aisle.

Less than half a minute has passed since the teen stepped on board. His interaction with the driver was brief; but in that fleeting moment, each acknowledged the other as an individual who was both capable and deserving of a personal greeting. This vulnerable and “inconvenient” act required a tiny portion of their time and effort, yet each accomplished the very thing convenience has trained us to shy away from – they connected and engaged, human to human.

What did this young man lose? 20 seconds. What did he gain? Personal humanity.

I sit back in my seat, awed by the simple yet profound truth of what I have just witnessed. With one act of “personal humanity”, albeit unaware, this teen blew into flame a softly glowing ember of reality that is too often snuffed out by our expedient and fast-paced living – the reality that each man is a unique and living soul.

Advancements teach us that everything we purchase or utilize in day to day living is made all the more “user-friendly” if we can access them with little or no human relation. Really?

An automated ticketing system may be more desirable than a shuffling queue, payment in cash, and the receiving of change and ticket. Yet how many of us can say our day has been brightened by the greeting of an eftpos machine? Or that we’ve exchanged smiles with an automated card scanner? Robots and machines efficiently deliver the goods; but if we are not careful they will rob us, intelligent and sensitive beings that we are, of the opportunity to deliver the good.

What if, instead of blithely skimming over a person, we were instead to take a moment to pause and interact with the tangible soul?

To connect with another human soul is to connect with our own humanness, and to glimpse, even for a moment, the stark truth: the machine may be easy, efficient, and convenient, but the human is complex, in-depth, and irreplaceably real.

© Emma McGeorge

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5 thoughts on “Impersonal Humanity

  1. Neil Strugnell says:

    All TOO true, Emma. Well “spoken”! I can accept that where congestion can be minimised, by a bit of automation, we are all satisfied by the “improvement”, BUT – YES – the interaction of “man-to-man” is still vitally important. Maybe to balance out the effect of that automation, we should make more effort to enter into conversation with the people who sit next to us on the bus/train/plane! Perhaps the bus-driver too, is enjoying the few extra moments of relaxation in an otherwise VERY busy schedule of both driving AND serving each and every client!
    I am loving these “blogs” if I may dare to call them that.
    Keep up the very interesting and good work – a God-given talent being well utilised.

  2. Hayley says:

    I sometimes think of the things that become easier in life, its so easy to lose a skill because something has become automatic and now we no longer need to know how to do it, acknowledging and greeting a person in this case. Sewing, cooking, cleaning, basic repairs and even, for some, face to face conversations with their friends all of these and more are skills that are being taught and learned less and less. So I always try and say “hello”, “thank you”, “goodbye” and maybe have a short conversation with some of the people I come across in the day. Lol especially the grouchy people I come across at the checkouts and more often than not I can make them smile, laugh and talk back. Victory!

    • Em says:

      So true Hayley!
      Are we forgetting what it is to be human?
      I highly recommend a short sci-fi story called “The Machine Stops” – written over 100 years ago, but you’d think it was meant for today’s generation…
      Yes! Keep bringing those smiles!!

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