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Now and Then - Dr. Roger Branch Sr.
On being pushed to the margin by technology
Dr  Roger Branch March WEB
Dr. Roger Branch Sr.

I often feel that I live in a world where I do not really belong. Part of this sense of being a stranger in my own land is the way that commerce and other crucial aspects of everyday life are managed. Another part is the technology that makes this structure of management possible. We must transact everything through technology, not people.

Companies of every sort insist that we pay bills online or by telephone. In many ways, it is cheaper for them. Paying by phone is a nightmare. The first contact is with a computerized voice that takes us through a pre-set list of choices to be answered “yes” or “no” or responded to on the telephone keypad. Sometimes the fake contact does not understand me. On my cell phone, the keypad must be summonsed up. Being old and somewhat clumsy, I have some difficulty punching it up and the fake voice loses patience with me. If it is a good day, voice will connect me with a competent person.

What is really preferred is that we pay online. (Does no one understand or care that there are millions of people who do not own or have access to a computer or even know how to go online?) Emphatically, I do not want to put bank account information or credit card numbers online to pay bills or anything else. This stuff is being stolen constantly.

I prefer to pay bills with checks sent by U.S. mail. It leaves me with tangible records. Besides, it is the way my late beloved Annette did it and whatever she did as family chancellor of the exchequer was best. Because checks in the mail are handled by people who must be paid for their work, modern businesses do not like this method. An increasing number of them now penalize me for using it with added fees.

Far too often, when matters require conversation with another human, I end up connected with someone who speaks a different version of the English language than I can understand. What a futile way to try to solve problems! Having grown somewhat cantankerous in my old days, I usually cut off the conversation.

During the COVID pandemic, it was difficult to consult with one’s physician(s) in person, but visits by telephone were par for the course. Now, a phone call leads to a menu of possibilities, one being to schedule an office visit perhaps weeks hence or, the best hope, to stay online to talk to a nurse. Is it any wonder that some people seek quicker response through overloaded emergency rooms?

Marginalized people are those who live at the edge of society. They have few options about almost anything and little power to change the way they live. Such people are not new. The poor are always with us. As a child of the Great Depression, I have little patience with the contention that poor people would not be poor if they just worked hard. I have a long list of people who always worked hard and died poor, as they had been all their lives, living at the margin. They have no money for electronic technology or to subscribe to internet connections. Nor would they know how to use these tools.

Now, as ever, many people in rural areas are marginalized. Even if they are not poor, they lack access to broadband, perhaps even reliable cell phone service. They are poorly served for fire protection. Hospitals are distant and doctors and nurses scarce. EMS must come too far. If connection to the marvels of technology is a problem, they are essentially outsiders.

Some senior citizens who have lived productive lives and earned the respect of others find themselves being pushed to the margin. In the past, some work did not entail use of computers or other aspects of electronics. Thus, productive workers could arrive at retirement without any such skills. Some found that post-retirement income was so limited they were pushed into poverty and could not buy things other than food and medicine or pay bills. They view sophisticated technology as unaffordable frills. If some fairy godmother deposited the latest and best in their houses, they still would not know how to use it to pay bills, Google it, build and use a homepage or get into a chat room. They served in the armed forces, raised families, supported churches, stood as central supports of their world. But the attitude toward them now is, “What have you done for me lately?”

Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.

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