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The Technology Catch 22: Stop the Train, I Need to Get Off

June 15th, 2012 by Michael Dyet

Hmmm, is state-of-the-art taking us down a road to a hinterland devoid of human interaction?

I’ve become more or less accustomed to the relentless march of technology in our society. I keep pace as best I can to avoid getting left too far behind. But every now and then I hear about a new leap forward that sets off my have-we-gone-too-far radar.

This week I heard a speaker describe how a corporation has built an almost entirely automated warehouse using cutting edge technology out of Germany. It is one of those cases where science fiction and reality begin to merge.

Human beings are only found on the periphery of this technological marvel. Actual living, breathing workers unload boxes off incoming trucks at the loading dock and onto outgoing trucks on the other side of the facility.

Everything in between – absolutely everything – is automated. Boxes trundle along belts to their predetermined destination where robotic arms ensure they are placed in exactly the right spot on exactly the right shelf. This same robotics system picks orders and sends the boxes along the belt system again to the shipping area.

Yes, the whole concept is quite amazing. It is a technological marvel that likely saves the company tens of thousands of dollars every day. It also puts dozens of employees out of a job. Manual labour, it seems, is going the way of the Dodo bird.

But isn’t there a Catch 22 in this technological breakthrough? There’s something rather disturbing in the notion that human beings are creating technology that makes human beings redundant. It is happening with disturbing regularity.

Grocery stores and big box stores now have self-serve checkouts. You scan the bar codes on your purchases and pay by debit card or credit card. No cashiers needed.

Gas stations have pay-at-the-pump technology. Pump your gas, pay electronically, jump in your car and go. Again, no cashier needed. (Aside: I’m holding out on this one. With the price of gas these days, someone is bloody well going to wait on me and take my money!)

Let’s set aside for the moment how many people are being put out of work. What I find disturbing is how impersonal our world is becoming.

Where is the human touch we used to value so highly? More and more of our interactions are with a computer terminal. I can envision the day when I will be able to go about all of my daily activities without ever setting eyes upon another human being. Even for someone like me, who prizes solitude, this is a disturbing picture.

What if, as we push our humanity farther and farther away, our human values began to decay? There is a strong case for the argument that this has already begun. In an increasingly impersonal world, it is easier to look the other way when someone else is suffering – or to take advantage of someone less fortunate for our own gain.

The next generation, automated warehouse is a rather potent metaphor for the dehumanizing of our society. The more we are able to serve ourselves the more self-serving we can become.

Muscles decay when they aren’t used. So do our emotions. Maybe we had better slow down the technology train before it takes us to a hinterland of human interaction where we become like the robots we created.

~ Michael Robert Dyet is the author of “Until the Deep Water Stills – An Internet-enhanced Novel” – double winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2009. Visit Michael’s website at www.mdyetmetaphor.comor the novel online companion at

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 NJJo Jul 3, 2013 at 5:48 am

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  • 2 Michael Dyet Jul 3, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Thanks for your support.