As close as we can

My card got declined today while grocery shopping. It was ironic as I have been “home” in San Diego for an extended period of time yet still somehow managed to set off alarm bells with some bot overlord in charge of tracing fraudulent activity. It normally only happens when I’m on the road and forgetful about managing my travel plans with my bank. This time, I wasn’t even going anywhere special and still managed to do it.

The grocery clerk and I had been chatting prior to this. He made a joke I often make where, upon taking the time to take everything out of my bag, I have to then repeat the process over again to shove it all back in. It seems like such a waste of time.

“Andddd time to repeat this process all over again!”

He said with a smirk. I laughed and lamented over how tedious it felt. He could feel my sighing attitude about it.

“Have you heard about those automated Whole Food stores? You can just walk right out. I don’t know how to feel about them though.”

This set me off on a mini rant about how optimizing to that extreme feels like a loss in humanity. Just because I want the process of unloading and loading back up groceries to be easier doesn’t mean I want all human contact lost. Together, we brainstormed ways you could elevate the human touch while replacing the main human interaction.

“You could have people standing around different sections of the store giving information on specific food in that area, recipes you can make, what pairs well… what if they just made the scanning process easier?! I’m sure there are huge gains to be made there over just automating all of it.”

Our ideas built on one another and by the time the declined message popped up, it felt like we were on the verge of solving something important.

Fortunately, this declining card scenario happens to me a good bit thanks to my nomading self and I carry cash with me in the car. It always makes me laugh when it happens as I can usually pretty easily identify what caused the bank to freak out despite having plenty of money in my account. The clerk kindly held onto my groceries while I bopped off to my car to snag the cash. I came back in and he greeted me with, “Time for even more human contact!”. I smiled wide and shared how I work from home.

“Sometimes coming to the grocery store is one of the main modes of in person communication with others in my day. I think it’s so important we spend time learning how to co-exist with others even if it’s just a small conversation at a grocery store trying to pay for food. It can mean so much, you know? It goes beyond just getting groceries.”

He nodded solemnly, “That’s why I came to work today.”

As I left, we both paused, made extended eye contact, and genuinely wished each other a good day.

“Take care, okay?”

So much wasn’t said but was still shared. I walked into the grocery store a bit worn down and on edge only to leave a bit lighter and with a new perspective. Working in tech, I’m constantly reminded every day how much we need other people. Remove friction in products, make life easier, etc but don’t remove the human touch. Don’t remove that which helps remind us why we are alive. We need to keep all of those reminders as close as we can.


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