Special to The Seattle Times
I had spent three hours on the computer trying to check in for my flight home to the United States. Again and again I went through the same prompts, but at a certain point in the process, the “continue” button sent me back to the home page. There was a glitch in the system, check-in was not possible; I was trapped in a Sisyphean hellscape. When I called, I was left on hold with the recorded music, or forced into a conversation with a bot that couldn’t make sense of my problem and couldn’t help.
I arrived at the airport four hours before my flight, exhausted and worried that the same glitch would also be unsolvable by the technology at the airport. I needed to get home but there was no one to explain this to; technology didn’t care about what I needed, although it did tell me it was “very sorry I was having this issue.” The kiosks told me the same thing as the website, that I couldn’t check in because of an error in the system, which the system naturally couldn’t solve.
But then, a miracle happened: In the sea of screens, I spotted a human who appeared to work for the airline. I ran toward her, looking (I imagine) like a wild animal, and indeed it felt like I was being driven by pure survival instinct. Within seconds, despite my best efforts to remain calm, I collapsed into sobs. “Can you help me?” I wailed, the aggravations, wasted hours and general insanities of technology culminating in that one moment. Her expression instantly changed from professionalism to compassion. She then uttered the best words I’d ever heard, maybe even more than “you have a healthy baby girl.” “Give me your ticket,” she said, followed by, “I’ll be right back.” Within minutes, I saw her approaching with a piece of paper, which, astoundingly, was my boarding pass.
Not only did she solve my problem, but her kindness and competence, and the simple experience of being helped by another human being who cared about my situation and could understand it and actually do something about it, left me feeling deeply connected and joyful, in touch with and grateful for the goodness of people. The interaction reinspired hope in our shared humanness and inherent desire and ability to help each other. I was reminded (and remain reminded) of the potential and power in simple human interactions — what we can offer each other, not just for our travel plans, but for our hearts and spirits, sense of meaning, and overall experience of life.
As a psychotherapist, I have a front-row seat to the exasperation, discontent, despair and profound alienation we all feel as a result of technology, the fact that we can no longer find any humans to interact with or help us. I regularly listen to both fury and hopelessness, from being forced to register with another website, navigate another platform, download another app and spend more of our precious and limited time working with technology and trying to make it work for us. All this to replace what at another time could have been accomplished by a simple conversation with a human being who knows something we don’t. On the flip side, I hear the experiences that make people feel connected, satisfied and, in a word, happy.
In its often-failed attempts to make life easier, this technology-based erasure of human interactions from daily life, in fact, deprives us of the very thing that most nourishes us, and what we fundamentally need to be well — as human beings.
Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister and the author of “The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World.”