The Future is a Touch Screen

I’ve seen the future.

And of all places for an epiphany, I would never have imagined it being a McDonalds in Longmont, Colorado.

I was pressed for time to get to an I-25 Coalition meeting at the Weld County Southwest Service Center off of Highway 119 north of Longmont. It had taken me 75 minutes to get there from downtown Fort Collins, a trip of 30 minutes under normal circumstances. But, hey, I-25.

So, I did something I had not done before. I popped into the McDonald’s at that exit to snag a quick burger. Instead, I walked through a time portal into the future.

As I had done for decades, I strode up to the counter to place an order for food so I could skedaddle. I was pointedly ignored by the usually eager-to-serve McDonalds employees. After an interminable wait of 30 seconds an employee finally said “You order over there” and pointed behind me.

Under a prominent ‘Order Here’ sign was a two-sided touch-screen kiosk. Actually, there were two kiosks. They were lean, clean, sturdy looking appliances of silver and gray with large brightly colored screens. Like the signs above, the screens also commanded me to ‘ORDER HERE.’

Decades of habit had blinded me to all of this. But the future was not to be denied, and I was redirected by a quietly polite young woman with a deer-in-the-headlights quality. She had spent the first two days of the new kiosk era gently guiding befuddled people into the future.

Reflecting on my experience over the subsequent days, I am astonished at how astonished I was. I knew this day was coming. Even so, I was surprised at the suddenness of its arrival

Now, let me be clear: it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. Not at all. Just new and jolting.

I was appreciative of the kind employee who redirected me and others as we crossed the threshold. And then I worried about her. There should always be a place in the world for people so well-trained and instinctively kind, but the new elegant silver-gray stranger she was teaching me to use was about to take her job.

In our eagerness to make sure everybody has a living wage, we impose mandatory wage increases on employers. To survive they pass those costs onto us, if they can, or cut back worker hours, squeeze their suppliers, and automate.

Studies show that a $1 increase in the minimum wage reduces by 0.94 percentage points the share of automatable jobs held by workers aged 25 and younger. That percentage is 0.72 percentage points for people over 40.

Young people pay a disproportionately heavy cost.

At a time when we need bodies in the workforce and younger workers need work and experience, we pass well-meaning social policies disguised as economic policy that actually erect barriers. The shiny touch-screen may look like progress. In truth, it’s an adverse reaction to misguided public policy.

But, apparently it’s our future. I’ve seen it.