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Ask Dr. Rich
Rich Simons | Upper East 11th

Every month, Rich Simons answers readers’ most perplexing questions.

Photo illustration Art Olson.
Click to enlarge.

Q: What’s the deal here, Doc? The other day I went to do something I haven’t done in a long, long time – gas up our car. My wife has always taken care of that for a number of years. So at the pump I was confronted by a gadget that I guess is a modern gasoline disposal unit. There were no service station attendants about so I tried to operate the thing myself. The instructions came flying at me in a flurry: push this button, lift that lever, insert some card . . .oops, take it back, now enter your social security number and your mother’s maiden name, press the lever you just lifted, grasp the dispensing hose, fling open the flap covering the cap, unscrew the cap, insert hose, squeeze a different lever . . . and now pray you got it right and came in under the time limit. If not, you have drawn the “go back to go” card. No gas for you, buddy, if you can’t get it right.

I remember, Doc, not too long ago you suggested that “senior citizens” (like me) should always have a kid around the house to handle all the new electronic gadgets we’ve got, who understand what the hell “wi-fi” is . . . or “roku” . . . or “hdm4.” Has this cancer spread now to outside the home, to where I have to carry a kid around with me all the time? – sign me “Rip van Winkle”

The short answer to your question, Rip, is: yes! Haven’t you noticed at the grocery stores that they are encouraging you to check out your groceries by yourself? And at the airport if you want a ticket or boarding pass you have to operate a thing kind of like a slot machine? So, yes, Rip, for the rest of your life you will need to have a young person at your side, who was born knowing everything. I generally recommend someone between the ages of 9 and 12. They’re born knowing pretty much everything about computers and systems, and by 9 that knowledge has been updated and refined, but after 12 they become “you know what” – creatures that think they ABSOLUTELY KNOW EVERYTHING!

So what’s going on here, Rip? I’m sure you know that some folks have jobs and some don’t. But did you know that a lot of those folks who have jobs are working their buns off to ensure that even more folks don’t. That’s right – by automating absolutely everything in sight! Examples are all over the place. You have already noted the situation at gas stations. And when was the last time you saw an elevator operator? At your bank, have you noticed that where there used to be four tellers, now there is only one? Maybe you know that people don’t build cars anymore – robots do. And we are only a year or two away from the day when all cars will drive themselves. Goodbye, cab drivers – and Lyft and Uber and all like’em.

Ah, I know what you want, Rip. Same as everyone else our age. We’d like to drive up to a gas station and find a polite young man there in a white shirt and a bow tie. And while he gasses up our car he’d wipe the windshield and check the oil and the pressure in the tires all around. And then he’d say we’re giving away free glasses today and hand us one and say we hope we’ll see you again sometime soon.

Well, Rip, you can kiss that sweet dream goodbye. Like the man said, you can’t go home again. Alas.



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