I finished my penultimate blog post by telling everybody that I used to work in a bar. It’s true, I funded a lot of my University fun with part time bar work, and when I graduated I worked there full time for a bit. I saw some disturbing things, but there’s nothing more disturbing than watching a family plonking their young children in front of a tablet or phone screen to watch Peppa Pig whilst they eat.
It is becoming increasingly common that mobile technology is used to “shut children up”, to phrase it politely. As the eldest of a multitude of noisy siblings, I can honestly say that there were multiple occasions when I wanted nothing more than an afternoon of quiet solitude, reading a book and generally not having to listen to arguments about who was going to play Mario and who was Princess Peach. For the record, I was always Daisy. Still am.
However, I wouldn’t have changed the mealtimes. Lively conversation (and the occasional food fight) are part and parcel of family meal times, no matter what environment you’re in. Sure, other patrons at pubs and restaurants don’t want to hear small children screaming, yelling and throwing themselves on the floor – who does? But, and this is a very important but, people need the stimulation that comes from social interaction. We’re largely social creatures, you know.
You may have heard about Smartphone apps like Qikserve – which are designed to ensure that the customer never has to look a member of staff in the eye, unless they’re bringing the chicken wings you ordered and paid for using the app 10 minutes ago. I can understand the benefit of using apps like this for efficient business lunches. Well, I’ll say I can anyway. But my favourite part of going out to a restaurant for lunch when I was younger was getting to order my own food. For that split second when I got to order to my lunch, I was in charge. It was brilliant!
Why are people so desperate to avoid genuine social contact? We are all very happy to comment away on social media, to ‘like’ things, ‘unfriend’ people and share pictures of pugs in hats, but we are beginning to shun genuine interaction, or at least referring to it as “awks” (which I believe means awkward). I see groups of people sitting together, staring at their phones, and it’s disheartening. We can do so much with technology, but I don’t believe it was ever designed to take meaning away from our social selves. Apps like Qikserve are attempting to utilise the “Argos” mentality, where the customer can order and pay for an item in a shop environment (because that’s where we’re comfortable) without having to be ‘bothered’ by shop assistants with all their knowledge of the products you want to buy.
Furthermore, what’s that going to be like for the staff? Or, what’s left of the staff anyway. Unemployment is a huge social problem in the current UK climate, and instead of creating more jobs, particularly those that are appealing to younger people either in or just having finished their education, there are companies creating applications that will remove the need for certain positions in the service sector. How will it spread? That’s another problem to consider. First Argos, ticket machines and self-service supermarkets, now there are self-service restaurants. What next? Self-service public transport? I’m pretty sure that’s just driving, but there’s probably more than one app for that.
Madness, I say. Utter madness!