Longing for the banking days of old

Published 10:14 am Friday, September 16, 2016

The automated teller machine.

Who knew when those machines started popping up at banks like mushrooms after several days of rain they would one day become such an important part of our daily lives — and such a pain.

According to histories of the machine we call the ATM, the machine we see at banks, shopping centers, convenience stores and jails (yep, a one stop shop for bail or fine) goes back to the 1960s, when a New York bank was persuaded to install automatic deposit machines at some of its branches. The machine was turned into a dispenser of cash in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and the epidemic was under way. Suddenly, these machines with the micro screens, numbered keyboards and tiny slots were all over the place.

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For many like me, who remember those ancient times when you paid for something either by cash or check, the early ATMs were large machines with their own separate room just inside the bank or outside near the entrance. They had large metal keys you almost had to beat on to move. You punched in your code number (now known as the PIN), a little door opened and the money slid out.

Then ATMs became smaller and were located outside by the drive-through lanes. The location meant you had to drive up to the machine to get your money. I can’t recall the number of times I slid my debit card in and out of that slot because this little message said it was improperly inserted, even after I had inserted it a few seconds earlier to check my balance. Or the worst messages of all, “Machine out of Money,” and “Out of Service.”

And for some reason, people have depth perception and literacy problems when they drive up to the stupid machines. How many times have you waited in line for an ATM and watched people get too far from the machine and hang halfway out their car windows to make a transaction, or too close, and make a move that would make a contortionist cringe to get the money, or spend 10 minutes staring at that little screen apparently trying to make sense of the instructions, which seem easy enough to follow — once you finally get in.

Because I drive a pickup, I have an advantage when it comes to accessing the ATM. I drive right up, level or just slightly above the card slot, and put it in — five or six times before it’s accepted — and make my transactions. I get flustered and frustrated and try my best to be patient with these machines, but one day one will go too far, and I may snap and punch it.

I’m sure the day will come (if not already) when the ATM will be replaced by a phone app you point at a smaller machine, punch in a code and handle your transaction. It’ll be easier for me. If something goes wrong, I’ll toss the stupid phone.


John Surratt is a staff writer at The Vicksburg Post. You may reach him at john.surratt@vicksburgpost.com. Readers are invited to submit their opinions for publication.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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