Archive for April, 2009

So, This Is the Future, Boomers?

April 23, 2009

I have seen the future, and I don’t like it.

On one night recently,  my hard-working spouse and I decided to pick up supper from Panera Bread, a recent favorite place to eat. We knew something was wrong when we got inside. Several employees had a distinct, deer-in-the-headlights look, as they stared at the computer screens they use as cash registers. The screens were dark and lifeless. A couple of 20-something men stared too, one occasionally talking in low, urgent tones on a telephone. The one who seemed to be in charge — as much as anybody did — muttered a vague apology at the customer in front of us, to the effect that their computer system was down, and should be coming up in a moment.

About ten minutes, later, the readouts in the customer windows on the terminals came to life, as did their display screens, and I was optimistic that we would actually be able to buy supper. During this painful interval, the manager mumbled something to the employees about getting calculators for the cashier positions, and having the clerks tally purchases by hand. The employees’ eyes got even wider, and one of them (Sherry said there were two Courtneys and two Ashleys, and I think I noticed a Britney), said, “You mean, we gotta turn around, look at the sign, read the price, and write it down on a piece of paper?” She was aghast.

Meanwhile, one of the Ashleys fingered the pocket calculator tentatively, and asked no one in particular, “Do we have to figure sales tax? How do we do that?” The apparent manager, who seemed to want to grab his coat and flee the building, watched glumly as all terminals displayed an error message that looked like something out of an old version of Windows, and not good news. He muttered and reached for the phone, again. Seconds later, he slammed the phone back on the hook and muttered some more. The Courtneys and Ashleys, meanwhile, fluttered and chirped like a flock of tropical birds in the presence of a big snake. Total elapsed time: twenty minutes. Usual time elapsed between ordering food and eating: five to ten minutes.

Finally, we reached the front of the line, which had been, after all, only two customers deep. My wife asked, somewhat optimistically, as it turned out, if she could pay with her debit card. Either a Courtney or an Ashley, I’m not sure which, turned and asked the manager. He shook his head, and Courtney/Ashley smiled at Sherry, and we learned that the lack of a competent adult who was not reliant on a computer system would keep us from eating supper at Panera Bread.

We left, with my significant other steaming, and me, amazed, and thinking we had witnessed an important event. One of the Courtneys (or Britney, I’m not sure) had to unlock the door so we could leave. They had closed the store without letting us know, because their computers didn’t work.

The future, fellow boomers, is grim. We may be the last generation in which a majority of us could complete a simple purchase without the help of a computer. We are threatened with death or slavery by a portion of the world’s population that thinks we are useless, amoral sub-humans because we don’t profess their religion. They are willing to die in the process of killing us, and think they will be rewarded for doing so in their version of an afterlife.

Standing between us and these murderous fanatics are people who become paralyzed puppets when their technological props malfunction. No, they aren’t all young, and not all young people are helplessly dependent on devices to do their thinking for them. Unfortunately, the automatons in need of a reboot seem to be in the majority.

We boomers will not be allowed to retire. Our militant neighbors will kill as many of us as they can. Of those who are left, the ones who get too sick to take care of themselves will get “put to sleep” by their health insurance companies, and the ones who can still function at all will be waiting for a panicked phone call: “The computer’s down! What do we do?”

“Well, calm down,” says some gray-haired boomer sitting in a back room, spurned and ignored until this moment. “Now, get some paper and pencils, and pocket calculators. Write down peoples’ orders, and look the prices up on the menu. Add up the prices — punch in the first number, press the “+” key; punch in the second number, press the “+” key, et cetera, and when you get — What? Oh, it means, ‘and so on.’ Anyway, when you get them all in there, hit the “=” key. That’s your subtotal. Then, to figure sales tax — what? Stop crying! You can do sales tax. Now, press “+” and then “5,” and then the percent key. STOP CRYING!”….

Cities will burn in fires ignited with stolen nuclear weapons. Innocents will be turned to hamburger by fanatics wearing explosive vests studded with a kitchen drawer-full of miscellaneous hardware and cutlery. Health care will be provided by Courtneys and Ashleys, ordered around by a computerized health care “expert system” — when it’s working. We will sit in the packed ER waiting room next to a smallpox-infected terrorist, who smiles wanly, and coughs in our direction. In a back room, a grey-haired man or woman asks a panicked nurse’s aide: “Have you tried rebooting?”

Maybe the health insurance companies will be doing us a favor.