As my years in Washington mount, some of my cherished New York ways fall away. One that never will because it’s linked into my DNA is my disdain for lines. All that waiting is an inefficient use of what little spare time I have. So, I’m the one at the airport who will pay a little extra at the check-in kiosk for “priority access.” I’m the fella who will Uber from point A to point B (no matter the distance) because I can’t stand D.C. cabs or the process of hailing one here. And I’m that guy who has three fab restaurants on heavy rotation so that a last-minute reservation or walking in without one is no problem. Otherwise, there’s the OpenTable app to help secure a table someplace new.
In terrific op-eds three months apart, Frank Bruni in the New York Times and Andy Kessler in the Wall Street Journal approach from opposing corners the lifestyle I share with millions of other Americans. And they are both right. Whereas Kessler praises the efficiency brought to our lives by line-busting technological advances, Bruni laments the societal stratification and economic segregation that go with them.
It’s no coincidence that nearly every important technology development of the past 20 years also happens to be a line-killer. Print-at-home boarding passes, automatic hotel checkout, bar code scanners. ATMs to avoid waiting for—and talking with—bank tellers. And when’s the last time anyone has waited to use a pay phone?
This productivity revolution based on queue-quashing has just begun, yet even now you can almost live your entire life without waiting in line. Amazon Prime will deliver most of what you need within two days. The taxi-on-demand service Uber lets you snake the cab line. FasTrak in California and E-ZPass in New York and New Jersey zip you into the quick lane to pay tolls. Heck, people are even buying ugly, overpriced Priuses to experience the nirvana of H.O.V. carpool lanes. — Andy Kessler
There’s no denying Kessler’s observation. Not only have things become more efficient, but we have also removed the nettlesome middle person who invariably works our last nerve because they are [fill in the blank] too slowly or not [fill in the blank] fast enough, depending on your mindset. But Bruni is spot-on in his assessment of the damage this is causing.
But lately, the places and ways in which Americans are economically segregated and stratified have multiplied, with microclimates of exclusivity popping up everywhere. The plane mirrors the sports arena, the theater, the gym. Is it any wonder that class tensions simmer? In a country of rising income inequality and an economy that’s moved from manufacturing to services, one thing we definitely make in abundance is distinctions.….
Bronze, silver, gold, platinum: a vocabulary once associated with jewelry or Olympic medals is now attached to your Hertz status, your Delta level, your Obamacare plan, establishing how far forward or back in the pack you belong, herding you into categories that sound suspiciously like evaluations of worth. This is how precious you are. — Frank Bruni
Yes, our ever-multiplying “microclimates of exclusivity” have made us incredibly “precious.” But they have also made us efficient and more productive. In addition, their benefits are not just the province of the one percent. So, if participating in all this means not waiting in line when I don’t want to (or need to) then precious I’ll be.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj