Recently, I was going about my business getting ready to go to work only to be interrupted by my doorbell. I inquired through the intercom as to who was at my door, only to hear — or rather overhear — a conversation. After not hearing a response, I repeated my request for the visitor to identify himself. After yet an additional delay, during which he continued chatting, the unscheduled visitor finally responded that he was with the gas company and here to read my meter. I opened the door only to see the individual intensively involved in conversation on a cell phone held to his right ear, and cradling a hand held device in his left hand for reporting meter readings. He proceeded into the house, still chatting away on his phone, as if I were not there. I tried to guide him to the basement stairs; he was oblivious to my instructions and proceeded in slow motion, distracted, as if he on auto-pilot, in an altered state. After he returned from the basement, I tried to engage him in some sort of communication and asked him what percentage of people permit him entry into their homes. Still in conversation on the cellphone, he replied, “You’d be surprised.” There was no opening to continue the conversation.
After leaving my home, I observed the meter man standing between my house and my neighbor’s house, still engaged in the same conversation he had been so immersed in when he at my house. I observed him continuing his cell conversation for a full five minutes.
Meter readers, like toll booth collectors and bank cashiers, are antiquated personnel of yesteryear, soon to be replaced by some form of automated technology – one more non-human interaction. However, as long as the gas company chooses to maintain this human face for their customers, they are a nice personal touch – or could be. Using a cell phone while on the job is not only distracting, inefficient use of company time, poor company service behavior and more likely to result in accidents and errors, it’s also a missed opportunity for human interaction – while it still exists.
The meter man’s inability to unplug from his personal technology device and his multiple-tasking behavior, is a harbinger of what to expect in the workforce of the future.