Of Metal Boxes and Money Trees

| August 30, 2010

Intent on depositing a week’s worth of waitressing wages and tips, I was directed by the suited teller to a metal box in the entrance to my local bank. I was working that summer in an ice cream parlor, saving my hard-earned dollars for college, and I worried whether automation would prove a reliable substitute for the warmer human interaction to which I was accustomed. The line for deposit was long, but moving steadily. I followed the directions on the screen and fed my envelope to the famished machine which burped back a printed receipt in less than thirty seconds – proof of a highly satisfying greenback meal in much less time than it took to pay courtesy to the bankers. It was 1979, and I knew that ATM’s had been around for at least a decade, but I never had occasion, or inclination, to use one – so fine had bank tellers been in my town.

It became hard to imagine not having access to the 24/7 services provided through automated teller machines. In fact, it became even harder to imagine ever needing to bother a human teller for the full services that technology provided. ATM’s revolutionized business’ capacity to deliver services efficiently, sending a clever invitation to libraries, pharmacies, home improvement stores, and many other places to promote self service and greater consumer independence.

Somewhere along the line, service began to feel less good, particularly in the economic downturn of the 1980s and then again in the first decade of the 2000s. Banks became smarter and hungrier, charging customers to use ATM’s and hard-selling at every opportunity a new kind of service, often impossible to understand in the finer print. They needed to recoup security expenses due to increasing crime, and they began finding other ways to make profits – effectively eating more and more oysters, like the Walrus and Carpenter.

At The Moment it’s more fun to speculate, as my children tend to do, that we live in world where dollars, free for the taking, really do grow on trees in the park right across from us– better yet, a place where everything is free, and we don’t need money, metal boxes, or human tellers lecturing on how to balance our check books. I ask who tends the garden to keep them watered and healthy, and I’m told that trees just look after themselves, relying, as they do, on the rain and sun.

Referencing Our News Display: The First ATM Opens, Thursday, 9/2 in the Everett Cafe