Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why we can't have nice things

Today I was at the library dropping off a book.  Used to be that you would just toss the book into a gigantic bin and the librarians would sort it all out but these days there is a fancy new system in place.  A computer screen tells you to put the books, one at a time, onto a conveyor belt and then the books are whisked away in the bowels of the library and a friendly green light informs you that your return has been processed.

On this occasion the person using the system ahead of me instead of following the very clear and simple instructions simply tossed her books onto the conveyor belt randomly.  The machine spit them back out and told her to put them on one at a time.  She tossed them back in and the same thing happened.  I stepped up and explained that the books needed to be put in one at a time.  Then she proceeded to get irritated at the machine and throw the books in forcefully enough that they overshot the conveyor entirely.  Finally the machine spit out a receipt showing that she had returned three books and she complained that she had returned five and that the machine was faulty.

She went inside and had a conversation with a librarian where the librarian tried to explain that the books needed to go in one at a time and the client stated that she knew that but that the machine had simply refused to read her books and that it was broken.  I left prior to the resolution of the conversation but it was clear what would happen:  The librarian would apologize for the faulty machine and solve the problem while the client stood around acting huffy.

There is nothing unusual about this of course.  People continually lie to others to cover their own mistakes and flaws even when the lies gain them absolutely nothing.  Is that librarian actually going to care if you admit you were impatient and not paying attention?  Even if they did care, is there anything whatsoever that they could do about it?  They spend all day listening to people complain about this kind of thing and watch everyone be hopelessly incompetent when using library technology.  Admitting fault here wouldn't even register on the librarian's radar.

But this is how we are.  When we fall or trip we immediately look around trying to figure out who saw us in a moment of weakness instead of first checking to see how injured we are.  We lie to people whose job it is to help us and who have no position of authority or familiarity just to make ourselves look better.  That insane, compulsive self consciousness is the way humanity is.

And that is why we can't have nice things.

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