Slowdown Time, Anyone?

I was driving to Target tonight (something I hate doing -- I am not a Target fan, for the record) to return something Kirk bought and to find some casual wear for myself for our weekend away. Since Kirk bought the shirt that I was returning on his own credit card, he gave it to me in case they needed the card to return the charge on it. (They didn't, through the miracle of technology -- which is, ironically, about to be the theme of this post.)

Since I had his card with me, we agreed it would be best to put my new clothes on that card, too. I've never, ever done that before -- used somebody else's card, I mean, even if they offered me to -- and the whole thing made me nervous. As I drove, I played out potential disasters in my head. What if they're a store that still asks to see the card to check the signature? What if, even worse, they're a store that still asks to see the card in order to check it against ID?

Normally I'm all for this. I used to work in a bank, and you just see enough problems happen to people with their bank accounts and debit cards to render you a personal militant on financial privacy and protecting against identity theft. But tonight I was rooting for the other side. I was hoping they wouldn't care who really owned the card I was using.

Then I remembered that Target uses one of those "insert your own card" machines at checkout. You slide the card in, the machine gobbles it up, and then it spits the card back out. I usually pay with my debit card in these places, which means I just type in my PIN number and am good to go. It's like using cash. Nobody asks questions to see the card if you're doing it this way. But what about a credit card, I wondered? Even if I get to slide the credit card myself into that gobbling machine, does Target make its employees ask to see the card afterward in order to verify name and signature? As you can see, I was back to square one with my questions.

Before I knew it, all of this squirming got me reflecting on how things used to be. I pictured a small-town supermarket, where the cashier would take your plastic card and make an imprint of it with his handheld imprint machine -- or, in even more ancient days, would write the number of your card by hand into sixteen tiny square-inch boxes -- and then ask you to sign the triplicate form after he made the imprint. It used to be an ordeal to pay for things this way, and I can imagine it was almost like the cashier was elevated to offering some grand, supreme service to customers who chose to charge their purchases with a card instead of paying cash.

Can you imagine the lines in those days? It must have taken forever to get through with your shopping back then! And yet, since nobody knew any better, it was par for the course. I can imagine you just endured the expected wait time for checkout because that's just how long it took. People in that world that existed not so very long ago must have had massive amounts of patience stored up in their veins without even knowing it.

Fast-forward to today and we find ourselves in Impatient City. If the machine doesn't read our card on the first take -- and especially on the second! -- we get frustrated and a bit snippy. "It's not reading my card!" we complain. "What's wrong with this machine?" (I know this is what we do because this is exactly what I did tonight when it took three tries of my own sliding into that gobbling machine for it to still not read my card. I eventually had to hand it -- the card that was not my own -- over to the cashier to slide it himself in his register. You can imagine my horror as I handed it over, given my aforementioned anxiety at using Kirk's card. I prayed multiple times: Please don't look at the card, please don't look at the card. What a weird prayer! But things worked out all right. Turns out, the kid didn't give a rip about whose card I was using.)

The point I'm getting toward is this. We're so attuned to high-speed living, depending on technology to simplify every process, that we expect it as a matter of course. How different this thinking is from twenty years ago, when we had no idea just how much we could actually master with a machine and how much of our daily grind could be relegated to a machine's brainy genius.

And all of this made me wonder: is there anything in this world that we expect slowness for, and maybe even desire it? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.