I was recently sat in St. Pancras enjoying a light ale while waiting for a train back to my home town of Sheffield. I was sat 10 yards from a bank of cash machines (I assume bank is the collective noun for ATMs) and during the 30 minutes I was sat there the queue for these machines never got shorter than 3. If I looked to my left I could see a block of four train ticket machines allowing travelers to buy tickets for immediate travel or to collect tickets they had previously ordered via the delightfully titled FastTicket, which had similar, if not longer queue lengths. A stream of seemingly never ending people waiting for pieces of paper and card to be dispatched by machines.
As I sat watching this scenario in between gawping at my smartphone I could not help but wonder why in the second decade of the second millennium people still had to queue for machines to dole out pieces of paper. I thought about how I felt when standing in those queues and those feelings usually involved disdain (come on what are you doing that takes this long? Do you really need to print a mini statement?), Annoyance (Why is there only 5 cash machines in this huge train station) and of course grumpiness (just because I am a miserable shit).
Now I know mobile ticketing solutions are on the horizon, from the 2D barcodes and QR codes for tickets to the future NFC technology solutions replacing both ticketing and eventually cash. These problems should not be with us much longer (well maybe a decade or so). These solutions cannot come fast enough for me.
We are trying to eradicate queues at all costs from the removal of physical cash to the redesigning of the car so that it is driver less and can in theory bring about the end of traffic jams (more a case of humans queuing in machines). So the days of long queues are seemingly coming to an end. We will be blessed with an easier life and more time to do exciting things (like gawping at smartphones). But then I began to think what will we lose if we no longer queue for these machines?
For a start the queue is a British tradition and we all love tradition so we may make our lives more stress free but a patriotic little part of us will die. We will have removed the awkward bonhomie between queue members. The knowing look between two queue members who both hate the idiot unable of retrieving a train ticket. No queues mean we have less frustration outlets. A lack of frustration outlets will create a tut and sigh surplus the likes of which the EU will have never seen. And what of the engineers? The real men and women whose mechanical engineering skills help keep these complex metal and plastic beasts spitting out rectangles of entitlement. Where will they go? Maybe they will go and make beautiful machines that people do not mind queuing for i.e. roller coasters. Or maybe they will build the kind of theme parks / interactive rides that Cory Doctorow describes in his excellent book Makers. And that is about as far as my sympathetic / reminiscent thoughts went.
For me the positives outweigh the negatives by quite a margin. Eliminating queues for these machines that are owned by organisations that the public have little love for may go a little way to healing old wounds, providing the solutions that replace them are slick and simple. Another plus point is that we will have removed a flash point from society. No longer will late night revellers risk the drunken lout at the back of the cash machine queue causing a ruckus or have to listen to a boorish conversation of a business dullard while he waits for his first class train ticket to the big city.
As I said before I cannot wait for the services that bring about the death of these machines and therefore the queues for them. Maybe then the smart technology companies can focus on improving / eradicating the scene of the most hated forms of queuing for machines. The Airport. Roll on teleportation.