Friday, January 15, 2010

New Role

I have taken on a new role during my forced sabbatical; two mornings a week, I am a volunteeer at the local YMCA in the town where my dad lives. My role is very simple: to meet and greet the Y members, and make sure they "sign in".

I belonged to this same YMCA, 35 years ago. To look at it today, you wouldn't think it was the same place I knew back then. It has grown by leaps and bounds, from one pool to two, from one gym to several, and they have added programs by the dozens. In addition to the wonderful amenities and programs, it really has a community feel; they try very hard to make sure everyone feels welcome, if not personally known by the front desk staff.

However, its a different era we live in now from that of 35 years ago, a different era in which we raise today's children. Now, YMCA members "badge in", waving their plastic bar coded membership cards under the light of a scanner, as a software program brings up their photo, membership statistics, and other pertinent information. The YMCA uses this information for several purposes, in order of importance: 1) to keep the place safe for the numerous children who take part in lessons every day; 2) to get an idea of how many members are using the facilities at which times during the day; 3) to make sure that each user of the facility user has a current membership. It was obvious to me during my first day on the job that safety is their number one priority. This is so different from my days as a Y member at this same facility 35 years ago; I don't think we showed our membership card at the door or even signed in with pen and paper. Back then, everything was done on the honor system. Today, we trust no one without ID. (I couldn't volunteer without three references and two pieces of identification; the background check alone took two weeks.)

So, with all of our technological advances, are we better off in today's world, where we are carded and scanned at every opportunity, or in the world of the past, when people knew and trusted each other? I don't really have an answer for this question. Today's technology provides a level of security that we didn't dream existed 35 years ago; on the other hand, some people still manage to get through those additional layers of techno-security and to threaten or harm the rest of us. I guess you can never provide a totally "safe" environment, no matter how hard you try. And maybe that's not a totally bad thing. Maybe sometimes we need to be able to trust our fellow human beings, and not leave it all up to machines.


  1. Feels like there is too much technology to me.


  2. Everything is a trade off. Some things are better, some are worse. I remember when it used to take 4 days to purchase a new car, now you can do it in 2 hours!