As a child I spent a lot of time staying with my Grandmother. Living in a relatively small town she appeared to know everyone and everyone knew her. She had a habit of addressing any retailer by using their trade as their surname, for instance Mrs Baker, Mr Greengrocer, Mr Butcher etc. For some reason I used to find this really embarrassing but it didn’t appear to bother them and they in return called her Mrs Mac (and abbreviation of her surname) in return.
Time to shop
Shopping was a lengthy process as this was an era before the creation of supermarkets and entailed visiting many shops and meeting many of the appropriately named characters of my Grandmother’s acquaintance. Paying for goods took quite a while too, as some products were weighed and wrapped individually and there was always conversation about things like the weekly whist-drive, the weather and local news (gossip). When I heard the words, ‘we just need to pop to the shops’, I knew it would be a lengthy experience and I would probably have to endure comments about how much I had grown, and how much I looked like my Dad, which I secretly disputed.
The need for speed
Nowadays, if I go back to the same town or any other town in the UK, a shopping experience is much different. It’s far more efficient and it usually only requires visiting one store. Items are conveniently packaged and priced and electronic scanners and tills mean that there is no need to add up the price of things. The whole process of buying groceries that took my Grandmother at least an hour can now be achieved in ten minutes or less. Automated systems mean that we now (theoretically) have more of the precious commodity of time, or do we?
Technology has enabled us to be busier than ever before and it seems the more time we have, the more we time we use and the more we are expected to achieve. For instance, emails have replaced posted letters, so in one day we can write, send and respond to more we could have previously coped with in a week. It is possible to run an entire business with nothing more than a phone and Apps mean that we can replace the work traditionally carried out by an accountant, secretary and receptionist. We can pay for things in the tap of a credit card, no need for cash to slow us down. The internet means we can book a holiday, buy a boat, download a book, watch a film and send a birthday card without even getting out of bed! It seems that we don’t need people any more but nothing could be further from the truth!
Positive psychology emphasises the need for social connection that is shown to improve our physical and psychological wellbeing. In fact, studies have shown that lack of social connection has more negative effects than being overweight, smoking and having high blood pressure. The evidence is compelling; people that have strong social relationships live longer than those who don’t. They are happier, healthier and less likely to suffer from depression, stress and anxiety.
Not everyone has close family or friends, a chat about the weather at the supermarket checkout may be the only chance for someone to interact with another person. I know my Grandmother enjoyed her shopping experience because it was far more than the purchase of goods, it was a form of socialising that has existed in our communities for centuries. For those of us busy people always in a hurry, convenience is a highly valued resource but how about those people who yearn for contact with others? Loneliness, and isolation has been identified as a major cause of psychological illness because connection with others is a fundamental human need. Technology is replacing jobs and removing the social interaction that existed before.
Perhaps there is need to slow down. It may be better for companies’ profits to speed things up and maybe we feel that we benefit from self-service checkouts, fast food restaurants, self-service at airports, railway stations and cinemas but we are being tricked into thinking this makes our life better? Is this really in the interest of our society? I’m glad my Grandmother never experienced this transition from tradition to modern technology and yet, I have a funny feeling that she would still have said ‘Good Morning Mr Machine’!