Macy’s, the mighty retailer, is faltering. They recently announced the closure of yet another 100 stores nationwide. The news hit me hard. I don’t shop in Macy’s anymore since falling on hard times, the result of a pedestrian car accident in 1994. Nearly all my clothes are thrift shop specials, gifts, or hand me downs from friends. I have a special attachment to Macy’s, however. I worked in their flagship store in Manhattan from about 1970-1972 when I was in high school. At the time, there was a diner type restaurant in the basement known as the Dutch Treat. The food wasn’t much of a treat but I enjoyed the camaraderie among my co-workers. I was a waitress there after school and on Saturday’s, hustling for tips, earning about $35 a week. Hardly anything then was open on Sunday. Maybe once or twice a week stores kept their doors opened until 9 p.m. Big box retail outlets like Wal-Mart and Best Buy were unheard of. So were the internet, fax machines, ATMs, cell phones, lap tops, iPads, and Starbucks. Blackberry and apple were known only as fruits. A text was a school book. Uber sounds like Goober, a chocolate candy, not competition for a taxi. An app was the beginning of the word application, nothing else. How did I possibly survive? Not only did I turn out to be a reasonably intelligent person but I earned two college degrees, one from a prestigious private university, without the benefit of technology. If you wanted to know the result of 3,456 x 4,738 you did it by hand. Up until college, calculators weren’t available. Even if they were, we couldn’t use them in class. You took notes by hand. Some teachers closed the door at the sound of the bell. If you were late, you missed the entire class. That was life back then. Life was different. So were Macy’s customers.
In a way, I’m glad grew up without technology. Undoubtedly, technology certainly improves the quality of life. There are significant advances in medicine, communication, science, education, trade, and aviation as a result of technology. Typing is infinitely easier on a laptop than the old machines, both manual and electric. Who can complain about all that? But technology has its downfalls.
As a child, I listened to news on a short wave radio from Africa, wondering what life was like in such far flung places of Nairobi, Tanzania, Casablanca, and Cairo. To expand my knowledge, I devoured geography books at the public library and looked up information about African nations so I knew where these places were, wondering if I’d ever get there. So far, I haven’t but there’s always hope. In class, we looked at maps in our geography textbooks and had to answer questions about other people and places on exams. Teachers (in my case Catholic nuns) answered our questions. Some students today sit behind computers for on-line education. A research paper is compiled from internet sources, not all of which are reliable. Years ago, assignments were completed in the library by using reference books with data about geography, current events, world news, and just about everything. There were stacks of newspapers, magazines, and thick encyclopedias too. A copy machine was available. On a Saturday afternoon (they were usually closed on Sunday) the public library was packed with young people checking out books, studying for tests, or compiling research. A staff member helped dig up obscure facts or figures.
The internet brought a seismic shift in the way we live. Books can now be downloaded and read on a device called the Kindle. So can newspapers, magazines and others periodicals. Ecologically, it saves paper. For money strapped readers, it’s cheaper. On the other hand, e-books crashed the giant bookstore chain, Borders Books and Music. Independent bookstores also collapsed and went out of business not just from internet competition but from the giant retailers, Amazon.com (strictly on line) and Wal-Mart, both big box and on line. Newspapers too feel the heat. How can they compete with the internet? Newsprint costs money. Prior to its rapid spread, nearly all medium and large cities had at least two daily papers. Now most are down to one. Even Pulitzer Prize winning papers folded. Thousands of reporters, editors, book store managers, and ordinary workers were booted out of jobs because of the internet. Admittedly, some unemployed workers entered retraining programs and found other jobs but the internet changed the way we get our news. Sadly, the days of Walter Cronkite, Mr. Reliable, are in the past. Fact checking is rare. The internet is loaded with biased, false and misleading sources that are taken as factual by poorly informed readers.
On line shopping though has become a breeze. Whip out the lap top or the i-phone, credit card and order blouses, books or even a purebred puppy. Yes, the internet even lets your fingers do the shopping when it comes to canines. Want a fancy schmancy puppy with a hefty price tag? Just browse the internet and that perfect puppy is yours, just like the Michael Kors bag. Meanwhile, our animal shelters hemorrhage with unwanted dogs and cats that need good homes that are every bit as worthwhile as what’s available on the internet. I don’t get it.
Moving back to Macy’s. Internet shopping may be quick and convenient but it lacks human touches. First of all, you can’t try on a dress and ask your friends, “How does this look?” There are no try on rooms either with on line shopping. If it doesn’t fit, there’s time and postage to return it, cancelling out savings. With on line shopping, where’s the chance to plop down from exhaustion in the mall food court after spending the day shopping? Can you pack away a tossed salad or cheese sandwich with your friends while shopping on-line? Or run into old friends at the mall, have a laugh or two, with internet shopping? On line shopping may be popular, it may sound cost effective, and it may be the new way to shop, but it’ll never take the place of human interaction at the mall, strolling down Fifth Avenue or wherever people gather.
Amazon.com is a giant, a behemoth. They sell everything at the cheapest possible price while employing thousands of people. Their warehouses are the model of efficiency, squeezing out every last dollar from tired, harried workers. The founder is one of the world’s wealthiest human beings. But as big and bold as they are, they cannot sweep away human interaction that takes place at the mall, at bookstores, at restaurants, on street corners, in dog parks, or cafes. Back in the 1950s the red scare, or fear of communism, infiltrated just about every aspect of our society. The mere association with a known communist was enough to land you on the blacklist or get you booted from a job. The red menace is gone. Communism is almost dead. Now it’s technology that takes over our lives from everything to selling coffee to matchmaking. Maybe I’m old fashioned or just a hold-out, but I like it when a human being answers the phone and asks how may I help you? I despise a machine commanding me to push button a, selection from numbers 1, 2, or 3. What if I really need to speak to a human being to resolve my issue? That’s often impossible these days. During election times, I’m bombarded with robo-calls, pre-recorded messages from candidates running for office. I’m a registered Democrat so if they come in from the “other” party I just hang up. Even doctor’s offices caved into technology. I get a call from a computer with laboratory or x-ray results. The office can’t be bothered to call me any longer.
As for Macy’s, I’m sorry to see them lose out to Amazon or other internet dealers. I may be one of the few people who has never ordered from Amazon.com. In fact, I rarely order anything from the internet. I hesitate to type in my one and only credit card number into a website, fearing some hacker in a far away land will steal it. I try to pay in cash. I know, who pays in cash these days. Yes, I do. I’m on a budget so I save for what I need. Reliance on a disability check forces me to be thrifty.
After reading this, you may think I abhor technology. Not at all. I have a Facebook account. I use Twitter now and then. I love my laptop. But I prefer shopping at the mall or at festivals. I love reading real books. Due to financial constraints, I get most of my books from the public library or from second hand shops. Yes, I have a cell phone. No, I cannot afford Apple products. They’re out of my price range. I recognize the good and bad of technology. It’s helped bring people around the world together for worthy causes. Unwanted dogs and cats find new homes much faster. On the other hand, the internet serves as a mouth piece to spread the hatred and venom of presidential candidate Donald Trump and his crass, bigoted following. Totally unreliable and false news reports spread like wild fire and are taken as credible. Children are so addicted to technology they rarely go outside to play games or interact with neighborhood children. There’s been a spike in obesity. And I consider it rude when I’m having a conversation with someone who sends a text message or sudden takes a selfie? What happened to common courtesy?
I’m glad to be old. I surely don’t want to live in a world without books. Department stores may end up closing. Cities and towns will be stuck with dozens of empty big box stores, wondering what to do with them. They can be huge eyesores. I refuse to live in a world without public libraries or book stores. I hope my time comes before then. As for Macy’s I hope they survive. At least I can browse around the aisles at Macy’s. I can’t do that at Amazon.com. You didn’t ask but I’m not fond of on-line education either. A computer cannot take the place of walking to school with your friends. A computer cannot replace eating lunch with your classmates or playing tag in the school yard. A computer cannot take the place of laughing or crying with your high school friends. Am I biased about on line education? Sure, but I am blessed with many fond memories of attending school before guns and bullies ruined the educational experience. I’m sorry that in today’s world home school may be the only option because parents don’t teach their children to act right or the proliferation of guns makes it unsafe for children to acquire an education
Don’t let technology take away the ability to be human. A smart phone can perform many functions but it can’t love you.