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Man Without a Booth

For well better than a decade, a distinguished older gentleman has been collecting our parking fares as we exit the garage in Atlanta. We hand him our ticket, he calculates the cost, you hand him your payment, and he raises the gate so that you can drive out. Along the way he exchanges pleasantries, a bit of weather and perhaps a bit of news.

He sits in a small booth, much taller than it is wide. There's room enough in there for him to relax in a comfortable desk chair. His space is air conditioned. He has a radio, not that I've seen him use it much; he gets too much pleasure in speaking with everyone who passes through to get caught up in radio distraction.

It has been this way for well better than a decades, both for the garage and for him.

But times change, technology changes, people's expectations change.

This week, I came upon him in a much changed state. His booth was gone. In its place stood a parking fee machine. I have seen these machines in many, many places before. You slide your ticket in; it displays your fee; you pay the machine; that raises the bar. But never had such a device descended on our parking garage. And then, there was our distinguished gentleman. Instead of his comfortable, diminutive castle, he sat on a metal folding stool, next to the device, making sure the machine worked correctly and that the customers could navigate the surprising, new landscape.

I expressed my shock, my dismay, my concern for his situation. "How much longer will you be here?" I asked.

"I don't know. They aren't saying. Maybe a week. Maybe a day. I guess until folks are comfortable with this machine."

I've seen him several days this week, exposed in the folding chair, his head bowed, his sentence handed down, just waiting for the executioner to lead him away into the abyss. In some ways, it seems the exposure, sitting out in the open, visible to all, unclad without his booth, is as horrid as the moment by moment waiting for his employment to draw its final breath. He is a beaten man. He is a condemned man.

Technology moves us ahead. Technology does not come without its downside. Technology does not come without its casualties. We hope, but never know at its implementation, whether the good will outweigh the bad.

In that way, I was thinking about David Purvis' post this week about inadequate algorithms. The law business is also being torn asunder by technology. Fast figuring computers are spitting out all the right answers to all the masses questions. God in a terabyte.

Are we, too, soon to be without our booth? Many of us are already sitting in folding chairs, wetnursing the machine, waiting for it to move on without us. Are attorneys soon to be as obsolete as the kind, distinguished man in the parking toll booth?

Is our work reducible to putting your ticket in, watching the display for the outcome, paying the freight and driving under the now raised bar?

Something important will be lost in that garage. Something not only real but valuable. Something that anchored people to that inanimate monolith of concrete and steel girders. Something that grounded us in ways that technology does not even seek to do. Our lives will be cheapened.

But at least we won't have anyone whiling away the seconds with us about pleasantries, the weather and the latest news. We won't bear that burden anymore.

Ah, efficiency!

Michael Manely

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