I’ve always been a great believer in the ability of tech to give us a better future. I grew up reading the stories of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Greg Bear, Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, Ursula Leguin, and other luminaries of the sci-fi genre. I was a subscriber to Asimov’s sci-fi digest and a member of the Science Fiction Book Club (where I will have you know, I ordered the books I was obliged to after claiming the ‘freebies’ they offered in the advertisement.)

Yes, reader, I was one of those who thought we would have food replicators, flying cars, and hotels on the moon by now. While I admit to being sorely disappointed at what we don’t have - over the past three decades I have been astounded by what we have created. Though, I must now admit that my astoundment has turned to frustration, anxiety, disappointment, and utter disdain as I’ve watched technologies that promised liberation from the brutal, hard, reality of despair that has been humankind’s lot for most of existence turn into tools for mind control, propaganda, rent-taking, and worse.

Worse, you say? What could possibly be worse than mind control, propaganda, and rentism? Frankly - and I’m not sorry to say this in the bluntest possible way - our tech has made us all sub-optimized. Everything we do is sub-optimal. I’m saying that in the truest meaning of the word with no allusion or reference towards anyone in particular.

No friends, we are all technically sub-optimal human beings. Held back, made slower, and made less able to accomplish the simple things that we used to do with far simpler and more effective technology.

Don’t believe me?

I tried to make a restaurant reservation in person the other day. The hostess informed me that they had to be made through making a call or using the website.

“But you’re right here. I can see your reservation book,” I pointed out.

“I’m sorry,” she informed me. “You can use our phone to call if you like.”

“Am I calling you?” I asked her.

“No, that would be silly,” she laughed. “You’re calling our reservation service. If you don’t reach them, you can leave your number and they will call you back.”

“But I’m going to use your phone?” She laughed again.

“Yeah, you’ll have to leave your own number,” she was looking at me like I was crazy.

“I have a phone,” I told her. I dialed the number. I reached a recording. I left my request and my return number. I hung up.

“Can I have the reservation now?” I asked her.

“No, they have to check the book, then call me and I’ll add it. Then they will call you and confirm.”

“What if there is no availability?” I asked her.

“They won’t call you back.”

“Can you check the availability now?” I asked.

“No, because I don’t know what they have in their book. It’s actually much easier if you just do it on our website. Then it’s all automated,” she explained. “That’s why I can’t take your reservation here.”

I sort of understood. I checked the website. It said there was no availability. I didn’t get a call back.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t help you,” she said.

“Oh, you helped me a lot,” I assured her. “I had no idea how this process worked.”

“Yeah, most restaurants do it this way now. Your best bet is to be a walk in though. Lots of reservations don’t show up.”

I thanked her and left. I’ve determined that I will never try to make an in person or on the phone reservation again.

It doesn’t stop there though.

We’ve all tried to get help from a call center or a chat bot. I’m not sure how many people remember when you used to actually talk to people who were empowered to actually help you. There was a time when it wasn’t just an hour of time spent in total and complete frustration. That time is gone.

I was renting a car recently. The computer terminal the clerk was using denied my card. I had looked at the balance earlier that day - I knew the card was good. I knew it should work.

“I think the problem is with your terminal,” I told him.

The clerk looked at me with sympathy and said “I understand your embarrassment, Chris, but you’ll need to use another card.”

First of all, I don’t go by Chris and my cards all say Christopher. Second, my card was good. Third, since when do rental clerks address clients by their abbreviated first names instead of Mr. or Ms. Whatever? Fourth - was this guy credit shaming me?

“The card is not the issue, Billy” I assured him, though his nametag said William. “Perhaps you should restart the terminal or call a supervisor.”

“There are other people behind you Mr. Damitio,” he said. “Please move aside so I can help them.” I think he got the message of the name at least.

“Not until you’ve finished helping me,” I told him.

“I can try another card for you,” he offered half-heartedly.

Giving in, I handed him another card I knew was good.

“I’m sorry Mr. Damitio, that card has also been denied.”

I was trying not to get angry, but I think my face was starting to show it. A supervisor moved over. “I can help you on this terminal, Sir.”

I handed her my original card. It worked. Meanwhile Billy was having a problem with another guest’s card. “Gloria, I think there’s a problem with the reader…”

“Restart the terminal,” she told him.

Holy shit. I was so grateful for her.

This kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME. Truthfully, while Billy may need help with his customer service skills, it wasn’t completely his fault. The technology simply doesn’t do what it is supposed to do a scary amount of the time. The issue is that we have become so reliant on the simple things it does - that this completely freezes movement.

My dad once owned a gas station. When customers used a credit card he would put it on a thing, put a piece of carbon paper over it, run the presser thing over it, write in the amount with a pen, and give one copy to the customer and keep one himself. At the end of the week he would send in his credit card transactions. Most of them were fine, some of them were not, but mostly the system worked for everyone.

I was trying to look up the name of a specific part the other day - I couldn’t find actual information using google, only ads that were trying to sell me the entire assembly that the part I was looking for was on. I tried to look up why my projector no longer plays Apple+ programs without freezing - and I found hundreds of others with the same issue - the Apple user forums were filled with people looking for answers - and the same ineffective copy-paste chatbot response that didn’t answer the question under each one of them.

I’ve given some examples here - but I could go on. Airports, travel, security, motor vehicle registration, business taxes, email - actually I will talk about email.

My email inbox is so cluttered with pure shit that I frequently miss things that actually matter. The worst spam offenders allow you to unsubscribe and then resubscribe you to five other things. Email has become unusable. When my business associates send me an email, I’ve requested that they text me or DM me on an app to let me know so that I can go look for it.

This has led to me using texting and social apps for things I used to use email for. I was looking for a contract this morning and searched three different email inboxes, then looked at my DMs, then went to texts, and then reached out to the colleague who had sent it and discovered it had been DM’d to me on Linkedin. This is not as simple as - printing, mailing, putting in a marked file in a file cabinet.

I suppose I should be grateful we don’t have flying cars or hotels on the moon yet. Imagine the disasters when the software failed and the oxygen air-scrubbers stopped working. The parking attendant at the flying car lot would no doubt tell me to use the online system to find where my air-ride had been tethered while I was eating lunch and Billy the moon hotel clerk would tell people to just keep on breathing because even though they were turning blue, his systems said that everything was working as it was supposed to.

We're all a bunch of sub-opts now. Welcome to the future and the uncomfortable tech of the present.