Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Interfacing with Real Faces

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Interfacing with Real Faces

Article excerpt

EVERY weekday at 4 a.m., when most residents of Chicago's affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood are still asleep, two former high-tech professionals start making the rounds of a very low-tech business: delivering milk. As owners of the brand-new Lincoln Park Dairy Service, Paul Yeh and Mark Kominkiewicz are banking - in every sense of the word - on a combination of convenience, nostalgia, and concern for the environment to attract up to 1,600 customers by the end of next year.

"These people will come to rely on me as their milkman," Mr. Kominkiewicz told an Associated Press reporter. "They'll see the same face at the door every day. It won't be like it is at the supermarket, where they're only dealing with a name tag."

Anyone who has ever come to rely on "the same face at the door every day" will understand the appeal of this charming new-old service. Yet it wasn't supposed to be like this. A decade or two ago, futurists confidently predicted that as the 21st century approached, people would happily bypass other people and interface with computers.

But buried in the blinking-screen efficiency of this computer world is a yearning for connection, continuity, familiarity - a sense of community - that won't go away. The electronic global village has arrived, but people still long for a real village at the core - a place where they can interface with a face.

Despite the round-the-clock convenience of automated teller machines, for instance, polls show that many customers prefer to do business with a bank teller now and then. Even before the computer age, the Automat was supposed to be the model of restaurant efficiency: Simply drop in your coins and take out your apple pie. Yet despite all our collective groaning about waiters who serve up cliches - "Have a nice day" and "Enjoy!" - along with the food, most of us would still rather deal with a waiter than a vending machine.

This hunger for a human touch is evident in other ways as well. Police departments from New York to Los Angeles and from Oregon to Texas have begun putting patrol officers on foot, on horseback, and on bicycles. …

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