Saturday, May 17, 2014

Piddling in the Wind

It's likely that the younger folks will read this and say, "What's the big deal, Old Man?" Then again, it's unlikely that the younger folks will read this at all. The older folks may split into two groups: 1) "Dang it all to heck, I feel your frustration, Don Ray," and 2) "Get over it, Don Ray. This is progress and you can't stop progress!"

This is about a dining experience with my family last night, and how I allowed my anger and angst over uncontrolled technology (and the corporate conspiracy to computerize its customers) get the best of me. I allowed it to ruin what might have been a decent meal --- and it led to a promise that I'd never set foot in that place again.

So help me gosh.

Our nearly 25-year-old son decided to treat Mother to a belated Mother's Day dinner at a Chili's Bar and Grill in Monrovia. I'll confess from the start that Chili's Bar and Grill is not a place that calls out to me --- especially on a Friday night. But this is between a son and his mother, so keep quiet, Don Ray!

No doubt, Xiao Mei and David enjoyed checking out the interesting people who also were waiting for that call that the table was ready. But me? I nudged my wife to point out the disgusting scene unfolding in front of us. A boy of about nine or ten sat with his grandmother in the waiting area. The disgusting part was that they were both absorbed, entranced and hypnotized by their individual smart phones. I grumbled as I thought about the wonderful memories the lad won't have of Grandma.

It was when we got to our table by a window (Xiao Mei likes to look out the window) that I saw the intruder gazing up at us from the tabletop. It was a computer screen, replete with colorful icons -- an icon for every customer's eye. I looked around and realized that every table sported a wireless terminal. What's worse is that someone at almost every table was interacting with the glaring intruder.

Of course, David's attention quickly jolted in the direction of the hypnotizing high-tech squatter on our table. But my reflexes were even faster than his glance. I grabbed the wireless billboard and placed it on the window sill -- facing outward. I placed it behind the giant "specials" menu so that it would block even the screen's reflection in the window.

The tabletop terminal, however, still maintained its dominance, blinding be damned. Xiao Mei joined David's protest. The computerized confederate became the topic of a dinnertime debate. But I wouldn't budge. As I was delivering a well-thought-out declaration that this would be a technology-free, family meal, David and Xiao Mei burst out in laughter and pointed out the window. Right up against the glass, two young faces were delightedly ogling the content of the outwardly facing monitor. Their parents were sitting on an outdoor bench awaiting their table. They, of course, were oblivious to the whereabouts of their kids, who had walked through the bushes to get to the magic screen. The parents, you see, were head-down in their own electronic devices.

Much of the dinner discussion revolved around my bullheaded boycott. When I asked the robotic waitress for the check, she proudly told us that we could use the little computer screen to pay the bill. I asked if we could opt for an actual bill, but my wife and son protested.

"I think it will be fun to pay at the table," Xiao Mei said. David agreed. He swiped his two gift cards through the slot on the side of the terminal. It quickly spit out a long, ad-cluttered receipt.

"It says we're eight dollars short," David said. Now I willingly put my debit card through the slot. The waitress came around behind me to help. I had to turn the screen around so she couldn't see it.

"Either you do it or I will do it," I said. "Not both of us. I can't focus on both you and the computer." She got the message. The computer screen then pissed me off even more. It suggested the tip amount. I grumbled that I didn't like that amount. The waitress said, "You can move that slide to the left or right to change the percentage."

When she finally walked away, I figured out how to move the tip to a higher range (it wasn't the server's fault, you see) and then finally rid myself of that horrible terminal. But it didn't end there. The computer now wanted us to rate the experience.

Long story short, I rated the overall experience a zero on a scale of one to ten. I rated it a zero on the questions of "Will you recommend Chili's to your friends?" and "Will you come back again?" Then I gave individual high mark to the food and the service. Finally, the computer displayed a fake keyboard and asked me why I hated them so much. I cursed as I tried to find the symbols that would replace the letters "u" and "c" and "k" -- no need to be too graphic.

When we left the restaurant, we had a really nice time. David asked me about some big stories I had worked on, and how I had fought for the truth -- even though it had cost me my job.

It would have been great to do more family talk at the dinner table.

I'm obsolete and I know it.


Gil Madrid said...

I'm with you on this subject Don, maybe it is an old timers thing. When we as a family eat out technology is left behind, other than the now convenient phone camera which has made it easier to record these events for posterity.

The younger ones, 18 +, still do some chat but to a minimum. recently while shopping with the wife 4 people walked into the store, dad/mom/2 kids, head down, phone screens illuminating their faces. So much for family time.

Watching G'ma making coffee in the AM, or tortillas for dinner, sitting by her listening to family stories, greatest time of my growing up years. Our g'kids are growing up with some of that, I pity those that are not.

lyradogz said...

I'm on the fence with this one. I do lament the interaction between people -- even strangers -- because they are so absorbed in their gadgets. I say hello to everyone while out walking my dogs every night but then often realize the people can't hear me because they have earplugs in.
I cannot remember, however, being able to have any good conversation while out in a restaurant where everyone can hear what you say. The best conversations my family and I had occurred at the dinner table in our own home where we each talked about school and/or work.

John Z. said...

Me too, Don. I recently went to a filling station aka self-serve mini-mart fueling depot and was confronted with a new gas pump. This one was loud and obnoxious and continued to spew loud advertisements at me while I tried to fill my tank with unleaded gasoline. I had to stop at $5.00 because I couldn't take it any longer. I walked inside the mart and asked the attendant about the loud ads coming from the pump. She said they are the wave of the future and that the volume can not be lowered or the screen turned off. I think I will look for a newer battery powered car.

Keep on subverting this change, Don.

Peace and All Good,
John Z.

William Prather said...

I'm with the "dang it all to heck, I'm with you" group on this one. I hope I never have to eat in a place like that. Sadly it seems true that most people (all ages except the truly ancient) seem to be more interested in their fucking cell phones instead of experiencing any real personal interaction with with the people they are with.

I'm glad the penalties are being increased for texting or talking while driving, although stupid allowances are still given for talking without hands, which is just as bad.

I have a cell phone, but use it only for true emergencies, never while driving or spending face time with other people

sweetsuzee said...

In the words of Commander Richard Byrd after crossing the North Pole via air, "We have improved, progressed and developed, but we have failed to make the most of ourselves. We have explored everything but our consciences".

Materially, technologically and intellectually we have arrived but WHAT PRICE PROGRESS? What shall it profit a man to gain the whole outer world while losing sight of his inner self? I personally find it overtly offensive as well as self deprecating and I truly do not want to participate.

Gaby said...

I'm with you, Don - I think that all gadgets should be banned from all restaurants, except for casual coffee shop places. They should also be banned from theaters, both legit and film. Museums too. I hate them. My students start to twitch if they can't touch them for two hours. I see teens texting each other - while at the same table! The least people could do is get up and go outside to have their inane phone conversations - I don't care about their face lifts, their babysitter or their grocery list. Sheesh! Great, great article.

Dawn Howard White said...

I'm not going to call you an old man, because I'm about the same age. In fact, I have kids older than your son. I use my phone for pretty much everything, including avoiding contact with strangers...or allowing them to avoid contact with me. Yeah, I ride the tech wave with ease, but I'd better, because my husband is a tech guru. Industry leader and all that. We use tech to collate information for making decisions, and we use it to generate conversations, settle disputes, keep track of family and document our beloved life together. But then, we would do all those things without technology. Did, in fact. Still do, when the power goes out for days at a time. I don't think gadgets like smartphones cause dysfunction. Rather, I think they reveal it.

Emil Mitchell said...

I must concur with you Don, my wife and I bought our first new car in almost eight years last November, and it has all kinds of nifty electronics, displays, little warning lights, and sync voice to guide your every need. SUCKS! I am and shall ever always be a dial and knobs manuel tune and adjust kinda fella! LOL

dwighthines said...

Face it, we're curmudgeons, troglodytic curmudgeons. Someone to tolerate, who needs the rest of the future to see the light.
Dwight Hines

Drew Sullivan said...

Gee. Don Ray ruined a meal through anger and bullheadedness. What a surprise! Your point is well taken but its not the computers fault. It didn't ruin anything. Actually, I like being able to take care of business like paying a check rather than waiting all week for a waiter to acknowledge me. But this is symptomatic of the problem that many people don't really want to interact with their family and friends. It's more an issue with narcissism in our society that is encouraged by our value system. I understand your frustration with technology but its just a tool. I get mad when I go to a sports event and they think I need entertainment blaring in my faee at every break in case I lose interested for a millisecond. They lost me already with the jumbo tron that takes away the simple enjoyment of pondering a sporting event. But its not the jumbotrons fault. it's the army of marketers thinking I am going to be amused by guessing Jennifer Aniston's age. Bottom line: life is an ever swirling, sucking pit of despair filled only with false hope and disappointment. Find some good conversationalists and meet every Tuesday at the Big Boy. It may not be your family.