DIY Frustration

The United States is a nation of freedom. Indeed. As I landed in Chicago O’Hare International Airport after a long distance flight from Tokyo, I learnt that from this moment on I had to depend on myself completely. There was no friendly airport staff like in China who could help me lift my heavy luggage on and off the security inspection machine. In fact, after I politely asked for help from a robust security guard who stood indifferently next to an X-ray inspection machine, he flung my luggage unwillingly on the belt. As a result, the handle of my luggage was broken.

In many public locations in America, such as airports, supermarkets, subway stations and even student lounges, you’ll find self-service facilities. Americans are independent. They like Do-It-Yourself—they do self check-in at the airport with their printed boarding pass instead of using counter service; they do self check-out at the supermarket instead of waiting in lines for assistance. Vending machines, ATM machines, newspaper boxes and subway ticket machines are everywhere in the U.S. It’s more likely for a tourist in America to communicate with a machine than with a person when he requests a service in public.

For example, I’d insert some coins in a newspaper box for the newspaper instead of giving my money to a vendor. As long as you have a credit card, you just swipe it through a machine before you check out in the store or at the gas station.

I miss the people contact service in my homeland.

DIY may bring convenience to most of us but it also puzzles the first-time users, especially foreign visitors. In my opinion, it’s tourist-unfriendly. My recent experience in the subway service of Washington D.C. was unpleasant. Unlike in Guangzhou, China where helpful conductors are at the entrance and on the platform in every subway station, I had to learn step by step how to purchase a ticket from the vending machine. What would happen if I did not understand English? There was no assistant at the station. It was difficult to find my fare on the machine in a dim light. But I made it eventually.

Do we need all this convenience? Is this complete self-service really helpful to everyone? What if the parking ticket machine swallowed your credit card and you couldn’t find any staff to help? We’re so dependent on automatic facilities but what if these machines betray us? Thanks to the DIY system, human contact has been reduced to the point we’ve become more like automatons ourselves.


Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America