Scientists spend a great deal of their time on inventions designed to save our time, not always too successfully. The trouble with many automated devices is not the article themselves but the people using them.
As regular readers of this column are aware, I am a bit of a dodo when it comes to technology. I am not really stupid but tend to not really read the instructions well before I begin the transaction. Being naturally impatient, I always try to cut corners by trying to think what the machine is going to ask me to do, instead of waiting for it to tell me what to do. The results are that I usually have to start over and do it properly.
Take for example the do it yourself check out lines in supermarkets. Looks like a time saver but the three times that I have attempted to use them, I have needed assistance and it took forever to get three or four items scanned. I do take solace in the fact that there are usually several other people arguing with the machines so I am not the only one managing to get it wrong. There is always a flustered employee racing from one machine to another trying to sort out the people who cannot manage to get things right.
Airports are getting steadily worse to travel through. Because of security concerns we are now asked to arrive three hours early for our flight, resulting in masses of people moving from one place to another. A recent trip to Scotland meant three planes followed by three trains, a total of 11 hours air time and 7 hours on trains. This was a total of eighteen hours to get to my destination however, when you include an additional 8 hours of waiting time, it is understandable why I arrived exhausted.
I could have saved much time if I had flown to Glasgow but my cousin, who was to pick me up on arrival, doesn’t like to drive to that airport. In winter, many of the international planes do not fly to Manchester as they do the shorter runs to Mexico and points south to take winter weary Canadians to a few weeks in the sun. This means that most flights go to London. I could have flown from London to Manchester then got on a train to the Scottish border but I decided to take the train the whole way as it is a pleasant way to travel and I get to see something of England.
Along the way I had many different “time saving” machines to cope with and managed to make a mess of each transaction, starting at Vancouver. The short flight from Penticton was a breeze as the airport there moves at a pace I can understand, not a machine in sight. Once in Vancouver I faced my first robot. Instead of joining the check-in line immediately you have to insert your passport into a slot and follow instructions. Didn’t take long for an assistant to help me out then I joined the line up. I honestly do not see any point in this first machine as the girl at the counter has to do everything again, on her computer so what is the point
Flight to Toronto, then just one quite simple machine for the next leg of the journey. I didn’t need to transfer luggage as it was going direct so I just had to find the right gate. I don’t know why but any flight I get on has the gate at the furthest part of the airport from where I am standing. After sitting on a plane it is a bit of a relief to walk but does it have to be so far and so warm. Too hot to wear my coat I end up with coat and sweater over my arm, arriving at the gate with a somewhat dishevelled appearance.
Getting to London was uneventful but once landed it is a rush to find my bag and get to the train station in time for my train. The trains go right from the airport concourse so no problem finding it, but dealing with the ticket machine gets me in a panic. My bag pinned between my legs to prevent theft, I read the instructions that seem to be written in a different language. Once more a gallant passenger helps out.
First train one hour, second “tube” ten minutes and third train 6 hours to Carlisle, where my cousin meets me. She is as dim as me so we spend two relaxing week enjoying each others company with nothing vaguely robotic in sight. Too soon it is time for the return journey. Ready for the ticket machine, I do much better as I remembered the transaction from the last journey. Confidently and with little hassle I get as far as Toronto. Here, because it is my first point in Canada I have to go through customs, so pick up luggage and head for customs. Here I find things have changed!
Usually upon my return to Canada, a card has been issued on the plane asking for details of where I have been, how much have I spent and am I bringing back booze or cigarettes. This time no form is given but instead we have more machines. As almost 300 passengers from my plane approach the machines another huge group of passengers, from a different plane, come from a corridor and join us. There are twenty four machines, five of them wearing “out of order” signs and one weary assistant running around like a headless chicken.
It takes me roughly an hour to get to the machines and of course I put my passport in wrong. It is very rudely spit back at me and I try again. Miraculously I get through the buttons without help, manage to stand in the right place while my photograph is taken and another piece of paper, with my photo and information, is spit out at me. I then go down another couple of corridors, somebody collects my paper without looking at it, and I am instructed to put my luggage on a conveyer. Nobody had looked at my luggage, I had just taken it from one place to another, so why had I needed to go through the rigmarole of collecting it in the first place.
The entire procedure seems to have been rather needless and a much more costly way to collect information than the cards that once were simply filled out on the plane.
My advantage, when travelling is my white hair and wrinkles. I honestly think that many people expect someone of my age to be slow and a bit scared of technology and are willing to help instead of getting impatient. At one time this attitude would have really annoyed me as I think am a pretty capable person, however, I am fitting into the part of poor old granny more and more and, to be honest it is an easier way to go