Efficiency is costly

How are you today? asked Lucas with a big smile on his face. I wasn’t having a particularly great day but his smile was like a radiating sun that warmed and softened my heart. He instantly made my day better so I couldn’t resist but to smile back and say Yes I am! Thank you! 

Lucas is a shop assistant at a chain store in the UK that I have just encountered as I was checking out. Not only as our conversation went on for awhile that I started noticing something different with the way he tilted his shoulder; it was abnormally low, bent towards the desk as he folded the clothes up carefully and neatly. I soon realised that he didn’t have his left forearm. He slowly placed the nicely folded clothes into a shopping bag, piece by piece, as he couldn’t put the whole pile in one go. It touched me. He touched me.

He made my shopping experience. He was compassionate. He cared. His attitude towards life was admirable.

But I am not just talking about being optimistic despite difficult circumstances or preaching about engagement in corporate social responsibilities. Though they are important issues to consider, I’m also talking about culture. A culture where strangers would genuinely ask about your day. Many would say thank you to drivers as they get off the bus. If you accidentally bump into people, they would compete to apologise. This would not happen in a city like Hong Kong.

I used to do those things like second nature.   But the hustle and bustle, the constant strife for efficiency in a city like Hong along has influenced me that I have almost forgotten how awesome it was connecting with people you shouldered pass. I have almost forgotten to make an effort to show gratitude towards others. I have almost forgotten the power of random acts of kindness.

As technology advances, many jobs that are used to be done by humans are now being replaced. Just look at the self check-out services implemented in many supermarkets. Efficiency meant that we sacrificed the time and chances to connect. To have a glimpse of someone else’s life for a brief moment. To remember what it feels like to share ideas momentarily with someone you had absolutely no prior relationship with but found insights and common ground with them. 

Efficiency is costly. The internet had connected us like never before. However, technology has also costed us chances to connect. Physical connection that gives us a sense of belonging or even our sense of identity that we all need as human beings.

Paradigm Shift in Action

Technology has changed the way we travel completely. 

You see these tag lines in the news all the time. Yet it is not until you visit the same places years after that you get a chance to compare and reflect on the journey now and then, that you start to appreciate and realise this fact. 

Life would be so much easier if I were a student in the UK now than it was 10 years ago. All the routes and maps are just at the tip of your finger. You can get to anywhere you want even if you don’t speak a word of English. That was impossible back in the days when I was a student.

I remember my sister and I used to do so much research before we travel. We could almost recite all the routes and would even quiz each other before we start our journey; the flights, the train journeys, more train journeys, and taxi ride. The journey from home to school was both exciting and daunting. It was a bit like a car driving through a deep forest at night with only one headlight. We were never certain about what would happen next. When we made it back to school, we would literally feel like we conquered the world and nothing was impossible.

Technology allows us to see the world so much more as everything seems to be more accessible. But the joy of travelling (and the preparation of it), experiencing and embracing the feeling of uncentainty, and the sense of adventure faded away with the upsurge of wifi and smartphones.