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A guest column by Chelsea Ware

Content Guy's Note: You may remember that I met Chelsea Ware at Portland State University's Center for Retail Leadership's annual executive conference. She was a student in the program, and when I found out she also was a blogger, I invited her to write a piece for MNB ... and she's written several, each generating a terrific reaction to her insights into how her generation thinks and acts ...

Chelsea has graduated now, but was inspired by the recent MNB conversation about robotics and voice-activated computers to weigh in with some thoughts. They may surprise you.


As a millennial, I consider myself to be pretty fluent in the use of technology. I’ve had Siri help me with research papers, I’ve ordered my groceries with just a few clicks, and I believe that social media is a form of art. Technology has benefited society in many ways, and I have no qualms about capitalizing on these advantages.

But the notion of “too much of a good thing” is very real, and I think that we are headed that way when we deeply intertwine robotics with our food.

From pizza vending machines to a mechanized metal tea barista at Whole Foods 365, we are beginning to be fed the idea that our food should be made and provided by machines. Not surprisingly, much of this is attributed to the growing wants and needs of millennials.

Some are arguing that companies should invest in using more technology because millennials are pushing for less human interaction in their day-to-day lives, and that this is the reason services like GrubHub and Amazon ordering have taken off with success. Bloomberg recently reported that chains like McDonalds and Panera are looking to invest in kiosks and tablets so that they can feed millennial misanthropy in addition to their stomachs.

Not only is the concept of all millennials being hermit-like and scornful of human interaction a bit offensive, but I also believe that it is an incorrect generalization of my generation. (As are, let's face it, most generalizations.)

Many of these online and technology based services are popular because they allow us to save time and do more of the things that we want to do. Bloomberg writes that millennials order toilet paper from Amazon because we are too anti-social to go to the store and get it. But since when has purchasing toilet paper ever been a social activity? The popularity of these services boils down to convenience, not a wide spread epidemic of millennials being uncommunicative, and it surely doesn’t justify replacing capable human workers with machines.

Most importantly, robots will never be able to replicate what makes the concept of food and eating so remarkable. Food is culture, self-expression, celebration, and a form of bonding. Food brings us together in ways that many other things cannot.

While food represents warmth and joy, robots are cold and detached.

Not long ago, my parents came to Portland to visit me and we went out for dinner at Bamboo sushi. In typical Portland fashion, the sushi was creative, quirky, and fun. But what made the experience most enjoyable was our waitress, who took the time to walk us through the menu and give us her opinion of the different offerings. We ended up ordering one of her recommendations, and during the meal she informed us of where the ingredients were sourced from and how much she enjoyed working there. My Dad is coming back to visit me this month and the first place we want to go when he gets here is Bamboo Sushi. I am sure that this sentiment would not hold true if our food had been made and served by a robot.

So while millennials may be more tech crazed than other generations, if a company relies too heavily on it in order to appeal to us, they could wind up in the junkyard.
KC's View: