50 Years Of ATMs

On September 2, 1969, a new machine was unveiled at the Chemical Bank branch in Rockville Centre, Long Island, soon to be followed by similar machines located outside bank branches across the country.  The machine was an ATM — an automated teller machines that allowed users to get cash from their accounts at the press of a few buttons.

atm_fAt first ATMs, like all new technological developments, were curiosities, and most people still got their money the old-fashioned way.  They went into a bank, filled out a paper withdrawal slip, and presented it to one of the human tellers at a window, or they went through the drive-thru bank lane, interacting with a teller remotely and getting their money via pneumatic tube delivery.  But as time passed people realized those ATM machines, once you got the hang of them, sure were convenient — and quick.  You could get money when you needed it and on your schedule, without being at the mercy of your bank branch’s hours.

As their usage increased, the number and location of ATMs multiplied, moving from their initial locations at bank branches to appear just about everywhere.  According to the article linked above, Chase Consumer Banking alone has 16,250 ATMs, and Bank of America has even more.  And as the number of ATMs skyrocketed the functionality of ATMs has increased, too, moving beyond dispensing cash to allow users to perform just about every banking-related service they might choose.  Chase says its ATMs now can do 70 percent of the things its human tellers can do for its customers.

People didn’t focus on it at the time, but ATMs were a precursor of the machine-oriented, self-service movement in American business.  There’s a debate about whether ATMs have ultimately eliminated human teller jobs or have spread them out among more bank branches that have been opened, but one thing is clear:  banking involves much less human-to-human interaction than used to be the case.  Who knows the name of their bank branch manager?  That’s become true in other businesses where self-service machines have been introduced, too.  And in that sense ATMs helped to pave the way for internet-based businesses, cellphone apps, and other consumer-directed options that don’t involve fact-to-face communications with human beings anymore.  We’re conditioned to doing things by tapping buttons on a machine, and there is no going back.

Happy 50th, ATMs!  You’ve helped to change the world, for better or for worse.

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Tattooed Nation

Bloomberg reports that about one third of adults in America now have tattoos.  That’s right — fully 30 percent of the people walking among us every day are sporting ink, somewhere, and that number includes about half of the “millennial” generation.

dennis-rodman-tattoos-5This news will not come as a surprise to anyone who is observant about our modern world.  Go to any local eatery, and you’ll notice that the young person waiting on you will have an elaborately designed sleeve, or a neck stamp.  Watch an NBA game, and you’ll see multiple examples of the cover art on Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man come to life, sprinting up and down the court and throwing down thunderous dunks.  Sit in a subway train, and you’ll observe that when the 40ish businesswoman sitting on the other side of the aisle crosses her legs, she displays a Chinese or Japanese symbol on her ankle.  In America, the ink is clearly flowing, and it’s pretty much everywhere.  The Bloomberg article reports that the increasing popularity of such “body art” has made tattooistry into a thriving industry that generates an estimated $1 billion annually, primarily through cash sales at individual tattoo parlors.

The tattoo phenomenon is one of those cultural changes that has happened so gradually you don’t really notice it — until you reflect on it, and compare modern times to earlier years.  Once, tattoos were rare and basically reserved for aging sailors, ex-convicts, Ivy Leaguers like George Schultz, who famously had the Princeton tiger tattooed on his keister, and outrageous personalities like Dennis Rodman, who displayed a lot of ink when he wasn’t wearing a wedding dress.

Now tattoos are ubiquitous.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to get one, however.  The idea of paying somebody to puncture my skin and ink up the dermal layer underneath gives me the willies.

But I wonder:  What’s next — serious facial and body piercings?  Maybe Dennis Rodman is more of a cultural trendsetter than we ever suspected.  That’s kind of a scary thought.

Confirming That Standards Still Exist

I’ve always considered Kathy Griffin to be an unfunny, no-talent hack who always seems to be willing to do or say anything in a desperate bid to get some attention.  Calling her a “comedian” is an insult to people who have a legitimate sense of humor and make people laugh for a living.

So it was no surprise to me that Griffin did something stupidly provocative — in this case, posing for a photo with a mock-up of a bloody, severed head of Donald Trump — in a bid to try to remain “edgy” and in the news.   The fact that anyone, even a pathetic attention grubber like Griffin, would think that posing with the severed head of the President of the United States was funny, tells you something about how out of touch some people can be with prevailing human sensibilities.

mqdefaultWhat’s encouraging, though, is the reaction to Griffin’s photo.  She was universally criticized by everyone, left and right, liberal and conservative, irrespective of whether they support Trump or think he’s the worst President ever.  Griffin also was, not surprisingly, removed from gigs and jobs, including participating in the CNN New Year’s Eve show that I’ve never watched, because someone who thought, even for a second, that that kind of photo was funny is obviously so lacking in judgment that she’s capable of doing or saying other things that are grossly inappropriate.

The broad condemnation of Griffin’s ill-advised publicity stunt shows that we still have some standards of propriety in this country.  To be sure, drawing the line at posing for a photograph with the President’s head may be a low bar, but it’s nevertheless nice to know that the bar is still there.

When Griffin realized that she crossed the line and was being subjected to withering criticism by just about everyone, she issued an apology of sorts, asking for forgiveness, calling herself “a comic” and saying:  “I cross the line. I move the line, then I cross it. I went way too far. The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people. It wasn’t funny. I get it.”  You wonder, though, whether Griffin really does “get it” — and in fact she and her celebrity attorney are supposed to hold a press conference today where they will explain the “true motivation” behind Griffin’s bloody Trump head image, and “respond to the bullying from the Trump family she has endured.”   That’s right:  Griffin apparently is claiming that she has been “bullied” because the Trump family harshly criticized her callous and outrageous stunt.

Trying to reposition yourself as the victim is a classic, last-ditch tactic when you’ve done something so colossally wrong-headed, so it’s no surprise that Griffin is trying it.  It will be interesting to see whether anyone lets Griffin get away with it, when in reality she has only herself to blame for her witless, self-inflicted injury.

Goat Yoga

When I first heard there was a “goat yoga” fad, I thought it probably involved yoga fiends doing poses that were . . . goat-like.  Just like, for example, yoga features the classic “downward facing dog” pose, or the camel pose, or the cat pose.

Perhaps goat yoga involves poses that involve standing on all fours, or shaking your head and twitching your ears, or eating a tin can, or making the goatish maaaaa sound?

goat-yoga-2But all of that is wrong.  “Goat yoga” evidently just involves doing yoga poses while goats are in the vicinity and — this is apparently especially important — having your picture taken in a yoga pose with the goat teetering on your back, or otherwise visible somewhere, so you can post the picture on your favorite social media outlet.  This story about goat yoga classes in Dallas notes that, for $36 bucks a pop, participants can get in an hour of yoga while more than a dozen goats from a nearby farm wander around, looking photogenic and selfie-friendly so those crucial snapshots can be taken.  Having been around goats at the petting zoo long ago, I’m guessing goats aren’t part of the mix because they emit a zen-inducing fragrance that is especially conducive to ekagra.  In fact, you’d think that having animals roaming around and potentially nibbling at your clothes while you’re working on getting that pose right might interfere with achieving the state of mind that yoga is supposed to help participants attain.

Why do yoga fans like doing their poses with goats, as opposed to sheep or some other moderately sized farm animal?  For that matter, why an animal at all, as opposed to, say, “cabbage head” yoga, or “abandoned sofa” yoga?  Apparently it’s just because people think goats are cute and look good in the inevitable social media selfies.  And they’re willing to part with 36 bucks for the privilege.

This says something about modern society, but I’m not sure what.

 

Tweety Dick

Sometimes modern life in America is so weird it’s hard to really take it all in.  The increasingly bizarre twists and turns of our politics and political leaders, the corrosive effect of simplistic social media platforms, the constant craving for attention and celebrity status — all combine to create a world where the strange has become routine.

57cc54c17b55c9ceef53dff107138873Consider, for example, how the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum reacted to President Trump’s decision to discharge FBI Director James Comey.  Trump’s abrupt firing reminded people of the “Saturday Night Massacre” during the Nixon Administration, in which Nixon’s zeal to discharge Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal, resulted in the resignation of the Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General.

So what did the Nixon Library do in response to this newfound attention?  Did it supply the press with the actual background facts of the incident that the Washington Post called, at the time, “the most traumatic government upheaval of the Watergate crisis,” so that people could make their own comparisons and draw their own conclusions?

Nah.  It sent out a tweet that said:  “FUN FACT: President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI #FBIDirector #notNixonian.”  Ha ha!  Boy, that Nixon Library is a laugh riot, isn’t it?  And a class act, besides!  And it sure helps to be reminded that, before Nixon resigned in disgrace after being impeached, there were some bad and ill-advised things that Nixon didn’t do, doesn’t it?

To its credit, the National Archives and Records Administration, which administers the presidential libraries, issued a statement about the Nixon Library tweet.  It noted that “[a]s a federal government agency, the National Archives does not condone or engage in partisan or political conversations,” added that the tweet “was not representative of the policies of the Library or the National Archives,” and noted that the Archives would be “examining the training provided to employees who post to official social media channels as well as reviewing work flows and approval processes to ensure that our social media efforts engage the public in constructive conversations in line with agency policies.”  Fortunately, there apparently is at least one adult in the room.

It’s hard to imagine that anybody in the Nixon Library gave much thought to the snotty tweet; they probably were reveling in the attention they were receiving in connection with the Comey firing and just couldn’t resist getting in a little dig that would boost the trending line of Tricky Dick and his library.  And that’s really the basic problem these days, isn’t it?  People just don’t think twice, or even try to resist their baser impulses.

When Celebrities Act Like Normal People

I don’t know much about him, other than his work in Schindler’s List and his hard-ass role in the Taken movies, and his getting to utter the memorable line “Release the Kraken!” in the remake of Clash of the Titans, but I’m guessing that, deep down, Liam Neeson is a pretty nice guy.

uke8zhvWhy?  My admittedly off-the-cuff conclusion is based solely on one recent incident.  Neeson is up in Vancouver, filming a movie called Hard Powder.  Because Neeson’s arrival in town got some local press, the proprietors of the Big Star Sandwich Company put up an outdoor sign that said “Liam Neeson eats here for free” on one side and “Come in and get Taken away by our sandwiches” on the other, and they apparently served up a few sandwiches to the movie’s production crew.  And then, to their surprise, Neeson actually showed up at their little shop, walked up to the counter, and asked the staffer there, in his best gruff, hard-ass voice, “Where’s my free sandwich?”  It was a pretty cool move on his part.

Neeson didn’t actually take a free sandwich due to his schedule, but he did pose for a photo with the happy guys who put up the sign, and as a token of their respect they’ve now named a special sandwich after him — which I have to say looks pretty darned good.  And with the photo with Neeson in their pocket, suddenly their choosing the name Big Star Sandwich Company looks like it was a prescient move.

Normally, the celebrity culture in our modern world makes me sick, with its worshipful treatment of cloistered celebrities who get special treatment everywhere they go and seem to have almost no idea of what the lives of normal people are like.  It’s refreshing when a big film star like Neeson is willing to do something that will make the day of some everyday guys who are trying to make a go of their business.  It says something nice about Neeson that he would do that — and it also reminds you of how many other puffed-up celebs who’ve read too many of their own press clippings just wouldn’t take the time.

A New Approach To Waiting

Recently I was at the dentist’s office.  It was one of those dreaded midday appointments, where the odds are that some emergency or other complication cropped up earlier in the day, meaning that the schedule is out of whack and you’ll likely be cooling your heels while the dentist and the hygienists work to catch up.

smartphoneusers-300x200Like every waiting room — literally, a room specifically designed to accommodate people who are waiting — the dentist’s office had a full spread of magazines and a TV tuned to one of those home redesign shows.  But as I looked around the room, none of the people waiting was restlessly flipping through a magazine, or watching the TV, or fidgeting and constantly glancing at their watches.  Instead, they were all on their smartphones, checking their email, playing a video game, or letting the expectant Facebook world know that they were at the dentist’s office.

This is one of the little changes in modern life that happens without being noticed until somebody calls it to your attention.  But now, thanks to smartphones, waiting time doesn’t necessarily suck.  Sure, you’d rather not be sitting in some generic space in the company of a bunch of strangers — especially if they’re coughing or sniffling — but at least you’ve got a handy gadget in your pocket or purse that lets you be productive or see what your friends are up to or have some fun while you’re sitting on an uncomfortable chair.  I’m told that some people actually look forward to waiting time for this very reason.  What could be a bigger change than that?

I have no way of knowing whether this is true, but I’d bet that state license bureaus and federal administrative agencies and doctor’s offices get a lot fewer complaints about excessive waiting time than used to be the case.  Every office administrator who works in a place with a waiting room should be grateful to the inventor of the smartphone.