Wasn’t it a Peanuts character who said, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand”?
It’s sort of funny because he has so much company, and not just with that specific oxymoronic declaration. That kind of thinking runs through so many areas of our lives.
Most people say they can’t stand Congress, but they keep re-electing “their” congressperson.
Everybody says they favor green energy, but they go into freakout mode if neighbors put a solar panel in their yard (that’s happening a couple of towns away from me) or if a wind turbine messes with their view (like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in connection with a proposed wind project in the ocean off Cape Cod that would have been visible from his family’s compound).
Most people I know preach tolerance until they get onto social media, where they openly long for illness, injury and/or death to those whom they politically despise. They make hateful statements while demanding civility from anyone who disagrees.
Most people I know say they are in favor of diversity — as long as everybody thinks the way they do.
And on and on.
But for those who are Charles Schulz’s kindred spirits regarding dealing with people, it looks like the future — 2018 and beyond — is yours. I’m just not sure how bright it will be.
We seem to be moving inexorably toward a world where direct human interaction is less and less necessary. And I’m not sure that is ultimately going to make our lives better.
I marked what I still think was a critical-mass moment in this trend when I was on a morning bike ride three years ago and came across a group of about 15 middle- and high-school students waiting for the bus. Not one of them was talking. Not one was even looking up. Every one of them was looking down at a smartphone, and most had both thumbs going, “talking” to friends — or “friends” — without having to talk.
If your adolescent habits persist into adulthood — and they usually do — these kids are Schulz’s soul mates.
Of course, the kids have lots of adult company. Plenty of married people I know will text one another if they’re in a different room of the house, rather than walk to the next room and talk face to face. I’ve seen them do it across a table at a restaurant.
In the workplace, a lot of people don’t have to be there; if a job involves a computer, most people can do it anywhere on the planet with Internet access.
Even if you do go to the office, direct contact is declining. The boss doesn’t have to be a mentor in person — there are video and PowerPoint tutorials for that. Bosses don’t even have to evaluate your work in person — there are algorithms for that.
I remember interviewing a manager for a high-tech firm who said he could tell within a day or so if an employee was looking for another job or planning to leave in the next month — since their every keystroke and website visit was collected and analyzed by algorithms.
Remember in one of those “Back to the Future” sequels where middle-aged Marty gets fired by video and fax? No need for either of those now — a popup window on your computer screen can tell you that your access to everything has been denied.
Well, OK, they do have to send security people to escort you from the building. But that’s just the kind of direct contact to reinforce that it’s people you can’t stand.
You don’t have to shop at crowded malls and wait in endless checkout lines. You just sit at the computer, tap the right keys and wait for the box to show up — delivered by a person you don’t have to meet or talk to or, so we’re told, by a drone.
If you have to shop at an actual, physical store for food or other essentials, chances are increasing that you can go through an automated checkout line where a screen gives you a perky “Hello!” and “Thank You!” for shopping with them.
Same with fast food restaurants, which are turning to robotic kiosks instead of humans to take your order at the counter.
Same for flying. You do give your luggage to a human, but only after you’ve tagged it yourself, using a “convenient kiosk.”
And with the impending arrival, so to speak, of driverless vehicles, everybody who summons a taxi, Uber or Lyft will be picked up and dropped off by a car operated by computer — actually a collection of hundreds of computers. Much safer — and less personal — than a person.
I can hear some people saying that there are at least some things that require person-to-person contact. Sure, you can flirt and sext online, but if you want real romance ...
Maybe not. Surely you’ve seen the headlines about sex robots.
Why put up with the demands, frustrations and sacrifices of a personal relationship if you can get the gratification you want from a pleasure machine that never has a headache, doesn’t spend your money, doesn’t harass you to fix anything and never demands that you “just listen.”
Somewhere Aldous Huxley is saying he told us so.
It’s addictive — you don’t have to be who you really are in cyberspace or with a robot. You can be younger, more attractive, richer, smarter, stronger. Read those dating columns in your newspaper (or your local news website) and you find that most in-person dates are much more disappointing than flirting online.
So, I’m guessing that in 2018 and beyond, “get real” will be obsolete. What we really want is to get unreal.
Welcome to virtual reality.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.