Liam Stiefel ’20

Photo by John Crawford ’20

Like many returning students, I came to the Union at the beginning of the semester to find that the wheels of progress had arrived at Davis Café in the form of touch-screen ordering. 

Taken in by the shine of the new screen, I tapped through the prompts until my order timed out due to my hesitation before a plethora of cheese options. Then I started again, until, with a quiet whirring, the machine spit out a receipt: #338.

As I sat awaiting my number, I had to ask myself: Is this what we really want? 

In my years at Davidson, I’ve gotten to know many of the wonderful café staff. 

We talk about our days, a summer trip to Alaska, the state of the F apartments, a past race, or my upcoming afternoon exam: small stories in snippets of time as an egg fries. 

When I was a sophomore, I became rather uncreative in my vegetable omelet and egg sandwich order, and when I changed up “the usual,” a call would come to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake. 

The staff even once opened the kitchen early for me so that I could have breakfast and leave in time to make a flight. 

This probably wouldn’t have happened had I not been scrawling my name onto paper with a stubby pencil and saying “Hello” as I handed it over the counter. 

Was it the perfect system? Not at all. During Common Hour, the small space would become a crush of students all reaching for the few small baskets that collected the paper order slips: definitely an issue worth discussing, but perhaps one with multiple solutions. 

Technology increasingly acts as the mediator of our lives, often in the name of efficiency, cost savings, or maybe just an image of modernity. 

Sometimes the benefits might seem clear (i.e. being able to call family anywhere in the world), but, as we allow it to permeate our days, perhaps we should ask more often, both individually and collectively, what each new screen or software truly provides us and what might we give up in exchange. 

The trade being made might be difficult to discern at first because it often happens in the small moments, like two strangers on their phones at a bus stop when in another decade they might have chatted. 

These instances are little things rarely thought of, but they can change the tone of a day, and cumulatively, a life. 

Sure, we might have had little say in the decision that brought the repeated mild insistence of the self-checkout as it calmly berates us to “please place the item in the bagging area,” even if we’ve done it already, but at Davidson, we can have thoughtful discussions about the technologies we choose to adopt, particularly those that may change the way we interact. 

One of the great beauties and challenges of this school is that we can never get away from each other. 

Each day, just by chance in our circuits, we see those people who bring us joy, as well as those who perhaps we wouldn’t describe that way. 

One of the many gifts of this intimacy, however, is that I don’t have to be #338, and you don’t have to either, and we should make that decision together.

Liam Stiefel ’20 is an environmental studies major from Atlanta, Georgia. Contact him at