The Dehumanisation of the Service Industry Rant

As the years go by, fewer of us will remember this; so it’s time to write it down so it can at least be remembered. Perhaps even recovered. There used to be something called a service industry, which was where people interacted with each other around some kind of transaction. As part of this, you would interact with other people frequently in respect of a longer-term relationship. It would be based around some transaction, but would develop into something more meaningful. Let’s form a picture of this.

Each morning, you’d stop by a coffee shop on the way to work. The barista, let’s call her Dotty, would see you coming and get your order started before you reached the counter. While making your drink, you’d have a chat. Over time the chat would be more personal as you found out more about each other’s lives outside of the coffee buying transaction. The experience was enriching and set you up for a good day.

A couple of times each week you’d head to the pub with colleagues to grab a beer. The barman, let’s call him Tony, would similarly do a great job of undertaking the transactional work of slapping beers on the bar while also being friendly and engaging. We were buying beer, but we were getting enriched as humans. We’d even be networked in to other customers who would often become friends. Networked in is the value-perspective way of saying introduced, and we’ll come back to that later.

A couple of times a year, we’d take our car to the garage. Over time a trust relationship had built up with the chap at the garage who dealt with us. This was super-important when it came to buying a car or committing to a big spend to fix something on a car as we needed to know that it was a worthwhile use of our money. We didn’t want to buy a new car if our current one could keep going economically for another year. We didn’t want to spend money on a big repair job if the car would need to be replaced soon. These decisions are easier if you have an expert on hand who you trust.

Over the years, the incessant pressure to make everything cheap and fast has meant the reduction of experience to mere transactions. You visit a coffee shop and find new people have replaced the familiar faces, because franchise holders don’t want to give increases out as it might impact prices or profitability. You find clip-board holding assessors performing time and motion studies on the barista to drive down the time it takes to make coffee. They just want it made faster, not better. They are hampered in their efforts to speed you up because they have to ask for your name and your drink order, because they no longer know it. They don’t talk outside of the transaction. “Are you paying by cash, card, or reward app… move along please.”

We now share our restaurants with uniformed delivery drivers, who are waiting impatiently for a sealed bag of food to be hander over. When our order is ready, we are given a sealed bag of food, because having a different preparation for deliveries and on-prem wouldn’t be efficient.

Everything is a transaction.

Give me an object.

Give me some money.


And now, the transaction prevalence effect is eating non-transactional scenarios. It started with networking. Version one of networking was you had a friend who needed something, and another friend who could help them. You’d introduce them knowing that the former would be delighted and the latter would be trustworthy. This is the centuries-old value of networking. We have very quickly eroded this, first by creating professional intermediaries who run introductions (networking events, trade certification bodies) and now by making it almost entirely transactional.

You have a connection request from Shane.


Thanks for connecting, I want to sell you shit.

Wherever a transaction exists, almost every trace of humanity has been sandpapered away to leave the mere bones of exchanging objects for money. We are living increasingly alone amongst millions of other lonely people. We get stuff cheap, with no soul.

Once, we used to make human contact with those people who surrounded us. Now we merely transact.

Written by Beck on

Michael Beck is a long-time writer for [the-mag] and Phonotonal.
Michael Beck

Discover More Culture