October 10th, 2012The Stepford Serversby Joseph Pearce
Recently I found myself at LaGuardia airport in New York, waiting for a connecting flight. With time on my hands I was drawn to a restaurant which had individual ipads at each table. Wishing to check my e-mails, and having not brought my laptop with me, I took a seat and waited in vain for a server to approach me. Although many clone-like servers, all of whom were blonde and wearing white blouses and matching ties, walked past me carrying food and drink, none of them showed the least interest in asking me what I would like to eat or drink. Eventually, being a technoramus, I realized that I had to order my meal on the ipad in front of me. The computer was my server. Feeling uneasy about the inhumanity of the arrangement and having specific quesitons about the items on the menu, I clicked on the icon that promised that a server would come to assist me instantly. Having been assured that a server was on the way I once again waited expectantly. Again, I waited in vain. Surrendering to the situation in which I found myself, I ordered from the menu offerd by the computer, even though I would have liked to have customized the order to my own needs. Having ordered, I was told to swipe my credit card before my order would be accepted, with an additional 18% gratuity already selected as the default option. I wondered what my cyber-server had done to warrant such a generous tip, especially as I had not yet received my food.
After a short wait, one of the blonde clones delivered my meal and drink, smiled dutifully, and left as abruptly as she'd arrived. Wishing to order a latte and desiring to know the number of shots of espresso that would be included, I decided to try to engage one of the clones. I called one over to me as she walked past and received the customized smile. "How many shots of espresso do you put in your medium lattes?", I enquired. The customized smile broke into a nervous giggle. I tried again. "How many shots of espresso do you put in your medium lattes?" The clone, evidently deciding that I must be trying to be funny, giggled again and walked off, my question left unanswered and hanging awkwardly in the space that she had vacated.
As I watched her walk away, a vision of Ira Levin's disturbing novel, The Stepford Wives, arose like a spectre in my mind. Here was a dining experience at which the whole human element had been removed completely. A computer screen took the order, the money and the tip, and human robots delivered the food. I was rendered speechless by the situation in which I found myself, which was just as well because there was nobody with whom I could speak.
Welcome to the unwelcoming future, I thought grimly as I departed, Finding a seat at the departure lounge, I opened a book and found myself in the warm and welcoming wisdom of the past.