The Yak Horns of Technology

A rustic came to a lama and asked him to teach him meditation. And the monk, realizing the mental aptitude of the enthusiast told him to sit in a quiet place and meditate on a yak. The simpleton did as he was directed and after some time when the monk came back to him to out his progress, asked him to come out from the secluded apartment. The rustic said, “How can I come out, the door is too small. These horns of mine do not allow me to get out.”

M.K. Spencer, relating a story told by Alexander David Neil

Working public service offers plentiful opportunities for observation of humans. My job is as a parking ramp cashier and the scenario forces drivers into specific options. There are multiple exit lanes, each with signs and machines, some with cashiers. One amusing pattern is how, once an individual enters a lane, often others will pile up behind them in a long line even though the other lanes are empty. It’s mindless herd mentality and normal human behavior. We are social animals, after all. Following others and doing what they do is a mental shorthand. It works most of the time.

There is another example that is even more amusing and odd. It is also different because it is less universal in involving a specific demographic, mostly young people. Some of the lanes have self-pay stations and there are sometimes problems, as often user error as technological failure. There is a ‘help’ button a customer can push to get immediate assistance, but many customers back up and go to a lane with a cashier. The problem is they usually forget to get their ticket back from the machine by hitting the ‘cancel’ button. So, they show up at my window without a ticket. I tell them they need to get their ticket because otherwise they’ll be charged for a lost ticket.

This gets their attention and also this is where it gets interesting. For older people, they might get irritable at the inconvenience, but they’ll usually get out of their car and walk over to the other lane to retrieve their ticket. Nothing complicated, just common sense, right? Well, let’s introduce into the equation someone in their late teens or early twenties, which at this point means those in Generation Z. Then the response is typically far different.

Upon hearing my explanation of the situation, the young person often looks at me with befuddlement and will tell me they don’t know how to get their ticket because a car pulled behind them. They try to figure out how to drive their car back over… and never doubt that they will try, no matter how much traffic is backed up behind them. If I don’t tell them to get out of their car and walk over, they might struggle for minutes or longer in a state of incomprehension. I usually help them out, but not always. I sometimes leave it as an experiment to see how long it will take them to realize they can get out of their car and simply walk over there.

Kids these days, I tell ya. I’m not without sympathy. It’s not their fault since it is how they’ve been raised, surrounded by and immersed in technology. It’s hard for them to think how to act without technology, to think outside of it. Of course, this makes them very adept in using technology, but sometimes technology is plain unhelpful. Sometimes, you have to get out of your car or get out of whatever other device your mind is trapped within. Those yak horns are only in your imagination.