Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Thanks, but no thanks

I used an ATM yesterday and I noticed something that has continued to bother me, the more I think about it. This is probably proof that I'm losing it. I withdrew some cash, and then the machine asked me if I wanted a reciept. I could press a button that said "Yes I would like a recipt" or one that said, "No, thanks!" and I thought at first, that's funny how they try to make the machine seem polite by elaborating these imaginary dialogues we're supposed to be having with machine, as though that mitigates the dehumanization involved. That's nothing new, and I wouldn't have been inordinately troubled by that -- industrial engineers are always looking for ways to permit machines to ingratiate themselves further into our lives. The more we embrace machines the more machine like we become, and the more predictable we are and the more we can be accurately exploited. This is old news. What trouble me still, though, is that the machine isn't thanking me in our imaginary little conversation, but that it has presumed to speak for me, and it has me thanking it for offering me a service, as though it had a choice in the matter. It was such a subtle thing too, which makes me think that the machine takeover is at some new level now, where we are being conditioned to be thankful that machines (and the corporate entities that commission them, of course) are willing to do what we program them to do. It made me think how easy it is to mistake these insidious gestures as well-meaning. And how paranoid I've become.

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