31 March 2016

Starbucks and Technology Ruined My Social Life

"Coffee, she'd discovered, was tied to all sorts of memories, different for each person. Sunday mornings, friendly get-togethers, a favorite grandfather long since gone, the AA meeting that saved their life. Coffee meant something to people. Most found their lives were miserable without it. Coffee was a lot like love that way. And because Rachel believed in love, she believed in coffee, too.” ~ Sarah Addison Allen, The Peach Keeper
When I lived in DC about twenty years ago, one of my favorite things to do in the afternoon was to visit the Starbucks cafe across the street from my office. It was a great afternoon treat. It gave me the opportunity to get a little break from work, and because I was there so frequently, I became a "regular" and was friendly with the baristas.  

In those days, there were no such thing as the rewards program, and there was no ability to place your drink order from your mobile phone. In fact, mobile phones those days were limited to actually talking on the phone, much less internet equipped. As such, in order to get a cup of coffee, one had to actually stand in line and wait their turn.  

Starbucks was just gaining their popularity back then, and the wait was usually long. But we didn't mind because the regulars like myself would stand and chat with the other regulars and the baristas. After awhile, the best part about going to Starbucks wasn't actually getting the coffee drink in hand. Instead, the highlight of my daily trip to get coffee was meeting up with the other regulars and the baristas and sharing stories of our day. They became my "coffee friends", my "Starbucks friends" and getting coffee became a much anticipated afternoon routine. Coffee never tasted better.     

Somewhere along the way, people became too busy to stop and get coffee. Instead, getting coffee turned into something akin to getting food at a fast-food drive-through. Or, it involved booking a coffee date with a friend weeks in advance. Gone were the days of picking up the phone and calling to tell your friend "meet me at Starbucks in ten minutes."

As the lines got shorter and the service got faster, the opportunities to make friends became less and less. People are in a hurry to get their coffee, and no one has time for chitchat. If you take too long and chat with the barista, you hear the people behind you huffing and puffing passive-aggressively to let you know that you are taking up their valuable time.   

Welcome to the era of everyone wanting instant gratification.

In late September 2015, Starbucks introduced Mobile Order & Pay. Customers were now able to order their favorite drink, select the preferred location, pay for their order in advance, and come to the store and have their drink ready and waiting for them. No long wait in line. No chatting with any of the other customers or the baristas. In and out.

Starbucks and modern technology have ruined my social life. I no longer have co-regulars at Starbucks. How can I, when everyone is in and out of there within seconds? The baristas aren't even friendly anymore either. Presumably, they look at some computer screen with details of the mobile orders, they prepare said orders, and they call out "mobile order for XYZ." There is no human interaction. There is barely even eye contact.

Yesterday, for the first time, I ordered my coffee from the mobile application. I walked to the designated location, and by the time I arrived, my drink was already there, ready and waiting. I didn't have to talk to anyone. No fuss. No drama.

My coffee was ready in record time. It's a shame though that the experience of getting it so quickly left me unfulfilled and unsatisfied.

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