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Examiner
  • Jeff Fox: Self-service means no service

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  • I love the movies, but most of the best these days are dark and brooding. I’m OK with that, but you need to break things up once in a while with a good screwball comedy from somewhere in the middle of the 20th century.
    Let’s start with “The Philadelphia Story” (1940) and run through “The Pink Panther” (1963, and none of the 174 lesser sequels and remakes). What fun. What an age of optimism.
    Besides, it’s like watching a time capsule. There are phone booths and phone books. A gas station is still called a service station because, well, someone who works there provides service, filling up you car with gas, cleaning the windows and maybe checking the oil. People who go out in public dress as if they’re going out in public, not staying for a sleepover.
    The energy crises of the 1970s came – I can remember the shrieks when gas hit the unimaginable level of 39.9 cents a gallon – and the service stations’ response was to start making us pump our own gas. The baloney that came with that was that this somehow saved us money.
    If you walk into a fast-food joint and order a Coke, you will not be given a Coke. You will fork over close to $2 and be given a cup. You’re on your own to find the station with ice and soft drinks. Decades ago, Coke ran ads saying it wanted to give the world a smile. Well, those went away too, about the time the McEmployees stopped pouring your drink.
    And the banks have long since figured out how to get us to do the actual banking while collecting fees on every conceivable interaction. It’s genius. Eliminate pesky human employees, eliminate checks, cut down on everything from bank branches to free pens, and eventually it’s pure profit.
    Oh sure, there are parts of the time capsule we don’t need to retrieve. At the store or restaurant, we wave a little plastic card, and we’re on our way. Anyone want to go back to standing in line while the person ahead of us fills out a check and digs through pockets or a purse to find two forms of ID? No, I don’t either.
    But things are going in some weird directions. It’s probably a publicity stunt, but Amazon.com has talked of drones sweeping across the skies, leaving the latest best-seller or tonight’s dinner in your driveway. The old service station never did that.
    However, I think we’ve all come to be deeply skeptical of the bright, sunny, semi-utopian future that’s just around the corner. The time-capsule movies have no cell phones or iPads – so we have made progress – but that shiny future has been around the corner for a maddeningly long time.
    Page 2 of 2 - Here’s another scenario: You lumber through a large, unstaffed mega-warehouse. Light costs money, so the only illumination is from little red flashes near the products that the store – having scanned your iris and knowing your buying patterns – thinks you want. Gather your goods, line up the bar codes and start swiping. “Have a nice day, night and/or weekend,” says a droid voice from somewhere.
    That might be about as much human contact as you’ll get. I hope they have a lot of old movies for sale.
    Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @Jeff_Fox or @FoxEDC.
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