Is social interaction a vintage idea?
Dec 21, 2016 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
You may have seen the headlines from the NY Post, claiming that Amazon’s new cashier-less grocery store would be the end of jobs. While the media flutter went all abuzz, it’s not an entirely new headline is it? As technology has advanced, people have become their own experts. For example, when is the last time you walked into a store ready to make a purchase and asked a sales representative to guide you in your financial decision? Most of us modern shoppers research thoroughly before we even get to the store (in fact, even more of us don’t end up getting to the store in the first place, rather we finish our transaction online and wait for a box to be delivered right to our door).
Perhaps the days of the cashier are coming to a close, poised to be replaced by “smart” technology. Will cashiers go to the island of misfit careers like the elevator operator, tv repair man, travel agent, or telephone switchboard operator? This may sound like a tropical refuge where the careers trumped by technology go to relax. But like the island of misfit toys, perhaps all these careers are looking for loving homes – a grand re-entrance into relevant society. In our article about the tv repair man we discussed the danger of waste, specifically how vintage appreciation can help us reduce our environmental impact.
But in this article I’d like to talk about something less physical and more emotional. Think about the thread that ties these careers together: interacting with people. That connection begs us to ask the question: is social interaction a vintage idea?
Let’s expand upon this query by considering an entirely different type of interaction – a type of interaction that requires human connection: dating. The days of a Dolly Levi-like helper are limited. Dolly’s brilliant match-making skills are now largely replaced by the algorithms that run sites like match.com. To paint the picture: you decide you are ready to enter the world of dating, you fill out your questionnaire, the data points are analyzed, and compatible matches are reported. You interact first with maybe an email or a text. Eventually a date time and place is selected. You’d think this is the moment where real, meaningful connection starts to take shape. But think again. Comedian Aziz Ansari discovered that the younger generation has no clear way of transitioning from text to talk. If we, as a society, can’t even muster up basic social interaction skills in the one area where it’s most definitely needed – what does it say about the idea of social interaction? Is it vintage? Antiquated?
Okay, okay – so I admit modern dating practices sound pretty dismal. I mean, I love being able to Amazon Prime Now a snack in a pinch as much as the next person. But when it comes to finding my future boyfriend, I don’t want to have dinner with someone who can’t look me in the eye. So let’s put the romance aside – how does the young crowd perform in the workplace? Well… again this dependency on technology gets us into a sticky situation. Eager candidates may have tremendous on-paper skills, but when it comes to in-person communications they miss the mark.
We’re painting a gray landscape here. Think Brontë. Think moody fog. But let’s paint in some rays of sunshine into this scene. Perhaps the question is wrong – social interaction isn’t entirely a vintage idea. Maybe it’s just a muscle we need to re-learn how to exercise. Technology tries to put a band-aid in this area with online forums, video conferencing, emoticons and the like. But nothing can replace the lessons learned when you greet your fellow human being. The lure of technology is strong and it can definitely be a force for positive change. It’s helped us research, learn, and expand our horizons in ways that wouldn’t be possible via traditional (vintage) means. It helps. But it’s helping a society that’s forgotten how to ask others for help. Think about this statement in a new way. Do you feel like you’re asking for help when you Google a question? Probably you think to yourself – I’m just using my resources wisely. Now consider if you asked a person for help. That definitely feels more like help and less like using resources wisely. But that’s what we all can be for each other: a helpful resource.
So where’s this sunshine? I know I’m biased, but I think a lot of hope resides in vintage. The popularity of boutique stores tells us that there is still a market for high-quality, collaborative experiences. Vintage and antique shop owners are special – they are trusted guides, true historical experts, and generally fun to be around! Do you think the NY Post got it right, hailing Amazon’s new grocery store as the end of jobs? Or do you think we’re getting to a crucial point where the pendulum will swing the other way again to restore balance?
While you ponder, I’ll leave you with one last tidbit to think about: employers are demanding that candidates have “soft skills” (i.e. social skills). Hiring managers everywhere have figured out that folks struggle interacting and that does not make for a healthy work environment. Maybe the job market could help drive change in other areas, forcing people to re-exercise that unused muscle. if you have to be more social in your job, then who’s to say you won’t learn to apply that to your dating life, your shopping experience, etc.? Eager to hear your thoughts in the comments below and be sure to say thank you to your grocery cashier next time you grab that box of cereal!