Impersonal (adj.) aloof, distant, remote, detached, isolated
Humanity (n.) people, human race, civilisation, humankind, persons
Travelling on the bus to work one morning, I am struck by the efficiency of the new ticketing system. All that is required is the swipe of a plastic card upon entry, and another swipe at the scanner when one leaves. No queues on this chilly winter day – no fumbling for coins, no loose change escaping down the aisle, no wasted seconds to receive a printed ticket.
And no interaction with the bus driver.
From my perch on the first row, I watch with interest as the morning crowd boards the bus. Immediately, I observe a marked difference between the up-to-date passengers who utilise the new Public Transport System, and the unconventional passengers who still pay in cash.
A young woman bounces on board, her backpack slung over her shoulder and earphones firmly in place. She flicks her card at the digital scanner then swishes down the aisle to find a seat. She need not spare even the slightest glance for the older gentleman sitting behind the wheel; he is simply a robot of convenience should she require assistance.
A gorilla in a tutu could be driving the bus, and she wouldn't even know it.
Next in line is a teenage boy. He casually steps on board, greeting the driver with a grin and a $5 note.
The driver returns the grin and the greeting, punching in the numbers on his cash box.
"Howzit goin', Mate?"
The cash drawer opens with a 'ping', the side slot coughs out a ticket, and the boy scoops up the stub and his change in one easy grasp.
Transaction complete. They nod to one another, and the boy meanders down the aisle to flop into a seat.
Less than half a minute has passed since the teen stepped on board. His interaction with the driver was brief; but in that fleeting moment, each acknowledged the other as an individual who was merely deserving of a personal greeting. This "inconvenient" action required a tiny portion of their time and effort, yet each accomplished the very thing that convenience has trained us to shy away from – they connected, human to human.
What did this young man lose? 23 seconds.
What did he gain? Interpersonal humanity.
I sit back in my seat, awed by the simple yet profound truth of what I have just witnessed. With one act of "personal humanity", albeit unaware, this teen blew into flame a softly glowing ember of reality that is too often snuffed out by our expedient and fast-paced living – the reality that each person is a unique and living soul.
Advancements teach us that everything we purchase or utilize in day to day living is made all the more "user-friendly" if we can access them with little or no human relation. That self-checkouts are preferred. That drive-through banking is the norm. That an automated ticketing system is more desirable than a shuffling queue, payment in cash, and the receiving of change and ticket.
Yet how many of us can say that our day has been brightened by the greeting of a Credit Card machine? Or that we've exchanged smiles with a supermarket self-checkout station?
Robots and machines efficiently deliver the goods. But if we are not careful, they will rob us (intelligent and sensitive beings though we may be) of the opportunity to deliver the goodness.
I eventually succumbed to the convenience of the new bus card swiping system, but it didn't feel right to also lose that interaction with another human being. I made a decision to greet that same driver who always drove my route, who had been ignored by the young woman and greeted by the teenage boy, and who looked like he would fit in my grandfather's weekend Rose Club. Every day I smiled at him and greeted him as I stepped on board and swiped my bus card.
And every day, he engaged. He smiled back. Soon, the inconsequential bus driver became my friend.
I told him about the new project at work that I was excited to be leading. He told me stories of the town history from before I was born. He tried his "grandpa jokes" on me, and I laughed obligingly. Once he greeted me with a smile and a bright pink flower.
A year later, I acquired my own car and began to drive to work myself. On the occasional day that my vehicle was being borrowed or in maintenance, I would once again ride the bus. The same driver still held the same route, and he would look out for me and greet me with his big smile, and catch me up on all the latest happenings, and make sure I got off safely at the correct bus stop.
We missed our daily greetings and chats. We missed the happy look we could exchange when the throngs of busy people stepped on and off the bus in silence, but we could smile at a friend. Mostly, we missed the rare richness of a connection that had come from two strangers looking at each other and seeing beyond the driver's uniform and the business of riding a bus.
So what if you and I chose to always look for the opportunity? What if we looked with new eyes at the multiple "human robots" who buzz all around us on a daily basis? Would our world look any different to us? Would it start to look different to those around us?
What if, instead of blithely skimming past a body in the driver's seat or a face at a cash window, we were instead to take a moment to pause and interact with the tangible being in that place? What if we set aside convenience for one minute – stretch it to two if we're feeling generous! – and allowed ourselves to engage in that interpersonal way that only human beings can?
One moment, one connection, one person at a time.
To connect with another human soul is to connect with our own humanness and to glimpse, even for a moment, the refreshing and unchanging truth:
The machine may be easy, efficient, and convenient, but the human is irreplaceably real.
*Rewritten from "Impersonal Humanity" at Kaleidoscope
Emma is an Italian-South African with a New Zealand passport, living in Papua New Guinea. After years of running a puppet ministry and directing student choirs, she currently serves with Mission Aviation Fellowship. Emma's deep joy is in writing, music, playing with her ginger cats and finding God in unexpected places.
Emma McGeorge's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/emma-mcgeorge.html