woman working in a coffee shop

I arrived early for an appointment this morning and decided to stop at Starbucks. I ordered my coffee and began chatting with the barista as she poured it. It was an uncomplicated order. My taste in coffee is simple: a dark roast with a bit of cream.

I soon realized that after taking my order the barista had not heard a thing I had said. She realized that too, and kindly took off her headset to ask what I was saying.

I felt bad. She was trying to take orders from drive-in clients and I was asking her for attention she could not spare. She was polite but I knew that she didn’t have time for the small talk that once lubricated our daily social lives.

The idea of ‘social third space’ that Howard Schultz wrote about two decades ago has eroded, a victim of the depersonalized, economic system we have created.

Soon, the barista will not be a human at all, even a rented one whose soul is being extracted for nine hours a day. It will be a smart machine, whose robotic efficiency will eliminate the employer’s worries about potty breaks, maternity, illness, and death of their human employees.

The coffee will be perfect. Always hot. Exactly as we ordered it.

But we will walk away, troubled, without knowing why.

We are unprepared for the soulless world we have entered. It is not inefficiency that will kill our culture in the end.

It is the opposite of inefficiency – a vast, perfect, global machine, headed by no one.

St John the Revelator called it, “the beast.”

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