Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reaching out can be hard to do

At fast food outlets and an increasing number of eateries, self-service is the order of the day. You stand at the counter, indicate your preference and then extend your own arm to collect your food. No more sitting in splendour at your table, awaiting a waiter's assistance.

Well, we're waiting for Sonny to begin his first steps towards this self-service culture. And we're really talking baby steps here. You might think that it's instinctive - indeed, automatic - for us to reach out for something that we find interesting, or want to grasp. But not for Sonny. Suppose he's hungry and he detects the approach of Mum the milk dispenser. Well, the young fella might salivate. He might make cooing sounds. He might even flap his arms about frantically - but it would be in a way that's about as directed as a rocker's long hair whirling crazily around in mid-concert. Quite random. Many a time, something will arrest Sonny's attention: Someone's face, say, or a colourful picture. He'll gaze and gaze - but never will he reach out.

At times, mind you, he can seem to be getting the idea. Consider, as Mum points out, his growing addiction to sucking his thumb (despite our best efforts to foil him, as described in 'Training our one-armed baby'). You might think that if he knows enough to aim his fingers and jam them into his mouth, this must be proof of directed reaching of some kind. If so, however, it certainly hasn't translated into any other sphere of behaviour. We suspect that it's just a habit he's learned and that his arms move more or less of their own accord.

Ironically, we're not actually fans of the way the self-service revolution has spread and deepened. In retail, of course, we've been trained by the emergence of supermarkets to go get our own stuff, rather than be waited on by shop assistants; indeed, there are now automated check-out stations that dispense with clerks altogether. In banking, the proliferation of automated teller machines, cash deposit machines and Internet banking means that we can get by indefinitely without dealing with human staffers. Some of the trains we take are completely driverless. There's certainly a convenience and cost-saving element to all of this, but we dread to think of a time when Sonny will never need to speak to anyone except his own friends and whoever he must deal with at school or work. Imagine not knowing how to chat to strangers, to exchange pleasantries or strike up casual conversations on the fly... how our social world would shrink!

And how sad that would be. Part of what it is to be plugged into one's community is to engage in such interactions, trivial as they may be. So we'll do what we can to keep Sonny plugged in, even down to simple things that encouraging cheery hellos to bus captains (recalling here our post, 'Let's greet every bus driver').

We'll even make sure Sonny is nice to the self-service staff at fast food restaurants.