Computers Are Good At Step-By-Step, But Only A Human Can Be, Well, Human

Posted by By at 4 May, at 07 : 21 AM Print

Making campground reservations at a state park can be pretty easy. You get on the computer and click into the desired park, then click to make a reservation. You tell the computer what space you want, and your credit card information, and it gives you a receipt.

If you are not sure what space – or even what park – you want, you can answer some questions and make some choices about what you want and where you are, and the machine will tell you what is available. But there are some things a computer cannot do.

We had picked up the Messeder Space Pod in Myrtle Beach on a Thursday afternoon and headed home. Somewhere a little south of Petersburg, Va., we decided to start looking for a place to pull in for the night.

So we asked Sally G, our faithful GPS, to find one. She found several. We picked the closest one and dialed the phone number. A fellow whose gravelly voice came from National Geographic’s “Swamp Men,” only friendlier, listened patiently while I described where I was – some exit off I-95, northbound toward home.

“It’s not that I don’t want your business,” the proprietor said, “but I’m over on (Interstate) 85, and that’s pretty much out of your way.”

On another road trip, we had set our taste buds one evening on a Pancake House. Sally notified us it would be found only a few miles northwest, so we asked her to take us there, and she did.

It turns when you ask for a certain restaurant or other “point of interest”, the GPS will point out the straight-line distance. But roads don’t generally go in a straight line, and you don’t get to see the real distance until the machine plots a route. The five-mile trip to the Pancake House turned out to be 15 miles of turns and computerized instructions.

So I was happy to hear the guy at the “out of your way” campground volunteered there was another facility a couple miles up – in the direction we actually were going. He put us back on I-95, told us we would go through Stony Creek and “Cawson” – which, when I asked him to spell it, turned out to be Virginian-ese for “Carson” – and turn off at Courtland Road.

He threw in a description of the new management and how they came to reopen the campground after it had been closed “for some trouble with the bank,” and recommended the place.

Given the name, Sally G could have found the place, but that fellow “over on 85” made it real.

I’ve done a lot of driving across the country, most of it without a GPS – a feat my offspring have difficulty contemplating. In a way, I miss the “old days,” when we read a paper map and compared what we saw to where we were alongside a highway?

Even if you made a wrong turn, you knew you wanted to go approximately “over there.” I got in the wrong lane one afternoon and arrived in downtown Hartford, Conn. I asked a police officer how to get back to the highway I wanted and he didn’t know. But I knew it was “over there” someplace, and sure enough, over there, a few turns later, it turned out to be.

The GPS could have done the same thing, had I had one, but it couldn’t have chuckled at a cop who didn’t know how to get out of his own city.

I buy from online vendors now and then – when I know exactly what I want, and when there’s no local seller to provide for my desire. Years before Amazon and eBay, Joseph, my favorite dealer in New York for photographic stuff, would tell me whether he had a particular model camera in stock and what it cost.

But if I asked whether it would do some particular thing, or which flash would work best with it, he was out of information.

“I sell cameras,” he said in response to one of my questions. “You want to know what it does, it takes pictures. More than that, take a class.”

When I bought my most recent camera, I went to a store, where I could hold it in my hand and decide whether it would fit my need. The same may be said for the camera before that. It’s worth paying more, sometimes, to have someone lead you through an expensive decision.

About 20 years ago, I was shopping for some ice cream when the power went out and the cash registers stopped working.

“I can’t sell you that,” the express line clerk said. “The power is out and the registers are not working.”

“I’ll give you the exact change,” I said. “You write down on a piece of paper, and when the power comes back, you tell the machine what you sold and give it the money.”

The clerk insisted there was no way to do that, until the manager arrived, and told the clerk to take the money from anyone who had the correct change.

Try that when the manager is replaced by a computer in Bentonville, Ark. Ah, yes, self-serve checkout. “Please place the item in the bag.”

Back in the camping world, we got our reservation, and spent two days hiking and getting to know a couple from Montreal, Quebec, and learning how to play Rack-O – a card game of which we’d never heard.

Computers are really useful tools, but for real world interpretation, I’ll take human contact every time.

Photo by llnl photos

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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at john@JohnMesseder.com - Email jmesseder

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