Remember the Discovery Channel show about how the natural processes and animals would gradually reclaim the planet from the ill-effects of humankind? Well, this post isn’t about that show (I did like it though). This is about the awkward phase we’re moving into where we will be dealing more and more with machines and robots than other human beings.
Two weeks ago, I spent a grand total of 24 hours on the ground in Chicago. I was flying to meet a good friend, who was kind enough to shepherd me around in whirlwind fashion, touring the city and some of the surrounding areas. We had agreed that the Chicago Marriott Hotel was a good place for me to stay, as it was convenient to the start of our walking tour. For the first time in my life, my stay in a hotel involved no people.
I made the reservation from their website, after being alerted to a terrific deal by an email from Marriott. On Friday afternoon, I checked-in on my phone using the Marriott app. On the cab ride from the airport on Saturday, the app notified me that my room was ready, and I downloaded my room key. Once at the hotel, I proceeded to my room, unlocked it using my iPhone, and less than 24 hours later, I checked-out from the app, as my friend ushered me to his car.
I think I’d prefer having an actual key card, but for one night in Chicago, the convenience of avoiding the line was worth the small anxiety of “what if my phone dies” – I’m not really an anxious person, I had that thought, but I quickly dispensed with it by reminding myself that I could still get a key.
That won’t always be the case.
At some point, human-less transactions like this will be the norm and finding a human will involve waiting in a long line, or perhaps paying a fee. Marriott has been incentivizing me (and others) to move in this direction for at least two years. I realized well over a year ago that if I hoped to ever have my early-arrival request honored, I needed to check-in via the app. That’s because other people were checking in, because Marriott was entering everyone who checked-in with the app into a 1,000,000 Reward Points give-away.
Initially, I still had to visit the front desk to get my room key. Then, about 8-12 months ago, depending on the hotel, I would go to a separate station designated for “Mobile Check-In Customers” where I would pick up my key. Today, in at least 25 Marriott hotels, I don’t need a physical key. I don’t travel that often, so I had never stayed in one of those hotels, until last week.
Locally, on an almost daily basis, I don’t need to hand cash or speak an order to the clerk at Dunkin’ Donuts. I can order on the app, pay with the app, and pick up my order from an unattended corner of the store. I don’t use that feature, but Dunkin’ Donuts wants me to. They routinely offer me free beverages or gobs of points toward free beverages if I will place an order via the app. I like the nice lady who usually works that shift, and I enjoy speaking with her as I place my order, so I am avoiding the app for as long as I can – i.e. until they lay that nice lady off.
Similarly, I don’t need to go to a human cashier at Home Depot, or Target, or Stop & Shop. I don’t need to find a person at Home Depot to help me find an item – the app tells me what row, and section the item is in, and how many to expect on the shelf.
Why the rush to have me be my own clerk? Money – of course. Think about that Dunkin’ Donuts store: coffee isn’t cheap, but the markup is high. Donuts are cheap, and the markup is high. Rent and human clerks aren’t cheap. The only way to reduce those costs is to get rid of humans and shrink the footprint of the stores.
Home Depot already has me picking, loading and delivering my own building material. The only human interaction is if I need assistance ordering big ticket items and if I stand in line to get a human cashier – a line that is getting longer and longer, as they reduce the number of human cashiers on duty.
Of course, the ultimate end game will be when I place the order via Home Depot’s app, and the driverless pickup arrives at my house an hour later with my plywood in the back.
Today’s gallery has a few more photos from Chicago, as well as a few from Great River Park, show why I am glad Daylight Saving Time is Over.