Technically Claustrophobic
Posted on September 10, 2018

Rave and rants by Mounir Harfouche CEO MullenLowe Dubai.

Computers talking to computers talking to machines and no one is there anymore to talk to us. I realized yesterday through a personal experience at the bank, how lonely too much technology makes us. 

I arrived at the bank in order to deposit some cash in my account. My turn came fast as I was the only one at the branch, with around 12 bored employees starring at their phones.

It took me around 10 minutes to fill the deposit slip with all the information requested - small lines and tiny boxes that don't even fit my full name or account number. The kind you end up leaving half of your written information on the table.

“It is at this very moment where I imagined the world with no human beings but me….”

Surprisingly, the customer services officer announces to me that they don't do it manually anymore and that I have to go to the machine and deposit the cash.

I obviously asked all kind of questions around this odd system before I realize that it was, in fact, my only option.

And here I am in front of an intimidating machine, trusting her functionality, software and network system with my money. I even smiled at it to break the ice.  Of course I looked ridiculous for few minutes trying to understand what is happening and how it works. Finally the machine opens its big metallic mouth almost starving to swallow my pile of cash! 

Moment of stress and panic, limited number of notes per deposit, no time to count your money again before feeding the monster. You close your eyes, believe in God, wish this is not your black day and go for it. Then comes this moment where you hear the machine mashing or maybe even smashing your cash, digesting it slowly while you are sweating your life waiting to see the total amount it will acknowledge. To my luck it burped the right amount (or at least close to what I had visually assumed!). Round one is down. I win. Round 2 was similar, with slightly less drama as I started bonding with the machine. Then comes round 3. Oh my God. Big mouth opens, my last treat goes in, the machine starts choking. The food got stuck in its throat! I started choking too. Suddenly, no breathing, no sign of life, the screen changes color, it's the end: Error.

Of course my first reaction was to start the reviving process. CPR, Pressing every button. Mouth to mouth resuscitation. Nothing. 

I look at the security guy behind me and ask him what to do. My money is in the stomach of a dead machine and no one and nothing can prove that I had fed this beast.

Ironically the security asked me to call the help center. I said but I am here at the branch with 12 employees doing nothing, why can't they help. "They can't sir, you have to call the support center". 30 minutes of listening to a long and slow recorded voice giving me more than different options to dial in order to hopefully land on someone who can help me and yet. Me at the branch, with 12 employees on their snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook. Me in front of a dead machine with my money in it, a phone asking me to wait for someone to take my call, a one-way answering machine (I don't know what it answers since it doesn't even allow you to ask a question ), a security guard protecting the machine from me while it is the machine that stole my money!

It is at this very moment where I imagined the world with no human beings but me. This moment where I missed talking to someone, expressing my feelings at this very moment and expecting a reaction in return, someone who can try to help, do something spontaneous, un-programmed, just human. I missed at this very moment someone to laugh with me, cry with me, worry or not but just someone who cares. "Don't worry it will be solved". 

You know what, machines are great. They help. They could bring huge efficiencies. But you know what, I still want a cashier to take my money and deposit them in my account. I still want a car that I drive and not a car that drives itself. I still want a charismatic waiter to take my order with a chat and stupid questions of "Where are you from" in between. Not a machine. And BTW, don't make bloody Alexa or Siri sound like people. They are not and it's just creepy. Just make them sound like robots or create the voice of technology because that's what they are.

ESC for now.