Long gone are days of personal interaction

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

It seems we’re rapidly trading all that is unique and interesting about our communities and our lives these days for better technology, more selection and better price.

Some might say the homogenization all began with Wal-Mart but the first mass-marketer to actually come into a town where I lived was Kmart. Whatever the name, the mass marketers changed commerce forever and started us on a course toward nameless, faceless transactions that accelerates with each Christmas season.

Growing up in Portales, a total Christmas shopping budget in the 1960s for a youngster like myself might have been $10 to $25. Out of that I would buy a present for the gift exchange at school, a present for each of two siblings and mom and dad. Woolworth’s, JCPenney, Turners, Portales Drug and B&J Drug were the main choices available in town on that budget.

This year, I’m not sure if I’ve spent less than $25 on any one present and most of it I’ve done online or through catalogs. OK, I confess, my wife has done most of the Christmas shopping — online or in catalogs.

I can say that the impersonal transactions I’ve made so far this Christmas season have worked out fine. Actually they’ve worked a little better than the times I’ve actually talked with a salesperson. But still it seems like something is missing if you don’t have someone demonstrating the product in person or helping to pick coordinating pieces for an outfit to give to your wife or mother.

These days nearly every bill we pay goes out of town. Phone, TV service, gas, electric, insurance — none of it ever even makes a stop in Portales; you get a return envelope with every bill with an out-of-town address on it. I’ve taken it one step further and pay most of my bills online, so that not only are there no greenbacks being exchanged, we’re not even exchanging checks. It just moves from my account total to the utility’s account.

My mom used to go around to the different utility companies in person and actually pay with cash or drop off a check once a month. I barely find time to get it done on Bill Pay, which takes me five or 10 minutes.

Centralized operations have become the norm for everything from this newspaper to our pharmacies and gas stations.If you do use a check station with a live checker when you buy your groceries, chances are they don’t know your name and they sure don’t remember how you like your groceries sacked.

I can’t remember the last time I actually paid a teller at a gas station for my gas. Getting my windows washed and oil checked by an attendant is just a distant and fading memory.

I could go on moaning about the loss of personal contact but someone is sure to leave me a voicemail on one of my three services or an e-mail on one of my two addresses complaining about not being able to talk to me in person.

I don’t know exactly when we all became so busy that we couldn’t answer the phone or pay our bills in person. If we were using that extra time to be with family or volunteering to do something kind for someone else it would all be good. Instead we use it to put in a few extra hours at our jobs or squander it on TV or Internet.

I would change it all and go pay my bills in person next month, but after Christmas shopping online, I don’t think I’ll have the money it would take to travel to all the points on the map that would require.