Losing Our Humanity

We hear it all the time...there's no stopping change. We've been led to believe that you must either learn to be flexible and operate within ever changing parameters or be rendered obsolete. This doesn't mean you always have to like it or it's the best thing for all parties concerned. In the last 50 years technology has thrust change upon us time and time again. One profession that is queued up to take a huge hit is that of the taxi driver. In America, car services like Uber and Lyft are the more immediate threats to the traditional taxi cab by offering what most would consider a better experience at about 20% less cost. The death blow for the whole taxi industry will be delivered by a bulbous little car that looks like it's smiling. Google's pod-like self driving car is expected to be on the roads in every major city within the next 10 years and for the taxi industry it will be disastrous.

Just think how nice it will be to pay a monthly subscription fee and have access to a car to meet you within minutes of wherever you are. You'll be able to read the a book, browse Facebook (safely and legally), take selfies, or even enjoy a power nap while being driven to your destination. There will be obvious benefits to the elderly and it will be great for those who've had a few too many drinks and need to catch a ride home. Sure, this technology will provide convenience but like many of our recent technological advances I think it’s bound to make life far less interesting.

My wife and I live in a upper Midwestern city that’s so spread out we need to own cars to get around. The only time I have a chance to ride in a taxi is on the way to the airport which amounts to a couple of times a year. Still I’ve acquired a long list of interesting memories from these rides in a taxi. There must be something about the anonymity of the encounter that makes some taxi drivers willing to reveal deeply personal things that they normally wouldn’t.

I remember one frigid February morning, my wife and I were heading to the airport to catch a dreadfully early flight. The cab arrived at our door and standing next to it was a gruff man who appeared to be in his sixties with about two days of gray stubble on his face. We said good morning and he only grunted. We told him we needed to go to the main terminal of MSP. He said nothing but radiated this immense irritation. As the cab pulled away from the curb he clicked on the radio and the station played nothing but 70's love songs all the way to the airport. We think we saw a small tear spill out from his eye during Hall and Oates', "Baby Come Back". As he was getting our luggage out of the trunk we handed him a pretty sizable tip, his face lit up in one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen and he politely said, "Thank you." It was a complete transformation.

On another occasion, again on the way to the airport, a taxi driver of about the same advanced age came to pick us up. He was eager to talk and seemed like an average grandfatherly type. We chatted it up for a few miles and he told us about how he got into the profession. Shortly after he asked if we'd mind listening to the radio and we obliged. We were fully expecting light rock or oldies but no, he prefered to listen to something much different, gansta rap. We felt as if we were in a movie scene. The cab driver's head was bobbing rhythmically to the beat. He told us later that his stepdaughter was a local rapper and he was introduced to the music this way. Again, an experience that totally blew away preconceptions.

On a trip to Chicago we were picked up by cabbie in his mid-thirties. He was already seasoned, you could tell. In our short ride to a Bucktown restaurant he told us all of the exciting moments of his career including the exploits of a few national celebrities and local politicians who he had driven. No detail was spared. All I can say is I hope he embellished. If not, then the world is even more twisted than I imagine it to be.

I have more taxi stories but I’ll save them for another time. The point is we’re about to lose this. In just a few years this experience of getting into a car with a stranger that you’ll likely never see again will be gone forever. Yes, the experience is awkward and it’s uncomfortable at first but in the end you walk away with a memory that enriches your life and maybe just make you rethink a stereotype. It opens you up to new possibilities.

Change for the sake of change isn’t always a great thing. As a species we must progress beyond this honeymoon phase we have with technology. We’re transfixed. It’s a love affair and we’re mad about the newest, the fastest, the best. We must learn to have the foresight and the courage to think deeply about how change really impacts us and make appropriate decisions accordingly. One thing is for sure, little by little we’re losing our humanity. When you consider our traits sometimes this isn’t a bad thing but let’s be careful not to lose the good.

~Eric Vance Walton~