Automated technology isn’t going anywhere — and it’s changing society

The first thing you notice when you walk into eatsa is the staff. It’s almost non-existent. There’s no cash register, no counter where you pick up your order at this highly automated restaurant chain. A single worker, sometimes two, mans the floor to answer questions.

Customers can enter and exit, food in hand in under a couple of minutes — all without ever interacting with another human being.

It’s an increasingly common scene as companies from Amazon to Little Caesars and Uber introduce more ways to go about daily tasks while avoiding face-to-face contact. On top of email, texting and social media, such technology is undeniably changing society — for better, for worse or somewhere in-between.

“There are times when people think it serves their purposes, and there are other times when they think it’s distressing that I don’t spend as much time with humans as I might have in the past,” says Lee Rainie, director of Internet and technology research at Pew Research.

Research in the area is mixed. On the one hand, it’s uncovered that those who use technology the most are often the most social people — enriching their lives with devices and social media in ways that involve interactions with others. On the other hand, it’s also found that the mere presence of a smartphone during a conversation decreases the feeling of connectedness with another person.

A lack of emotion

Carol Mitchell, 69, doesn’t own a smartphone. She isn’t on Twitter. She regularly turns off her cellphone — one of those flip models that make it ridiculously hard to text — and only checks in once or twice a day. “And things get done. The world doesn’t stop going around,” she notes.

Still, she uses an iPad, and Facetime connects her with her grandchildren in England. But she misses more frequent contact with former co-workers who now only get together every few months because they connect via email. She blames a lot of the negativity in the world on the technology that shifts us away from in-person contact.

“In an email you don’t get the emotional side of it, you don’t get the real feeling for exactly what they meant by whatever they said,” she says.

Separated from Mitchell by more than five decades is Zoey Golabek, 15, a rising sophomore at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Va. The social butterfly isn’t one of the teenagers you hear about in the news. Sure, she Snapchats with at least 10 friends every day and uses all the latest messaging apps. But she only texts with one or two people on a daily basis and sounds quite a lot like Mitchell when it comes to social interactions: Zoey prefers talking in person.

“It’s more personal and you know what they’re saying because through text if you were to communicate with someone, you don’t know what they mean by it because there’s no emotion,” she says. “Sometimes they could be sending an emoji and not really mean it.”

Read more at USA Today.