Be cautious of the future

Food robots may seem like a wonderful convenience, but they may hide a more sinister purpose.

Anyone who has set foot on The University of Tulsa’s campus in the last months has no doubt encountered the new food robots. They stand at attention in front of Pat Case and frequently form a phalanx by the Student Union, waiting to receive their orders. And TU is not alone in this investment: college campi across the nation have added the machines to the list of conveniences they offer. But there wasn’t really a need to keep people from walking across campus to grab a meal. TU has a small and well-organized campus where, for the most part, no one has to walk more than 10 minutes to reach their food destination. And of course, it can provide a new convenience for those of a different level of mobility, but one look at Phillips Hall says this couldn’t have been the priority. The real explanation lies in a bit of business.

Despite the non-profit label, TU is a business. This isn’t a good or bad thing, but it’s the truth. Hundreds upon hundreds of people arrive on campus each day not as a student but as an employee. This includes the faculty that teach courses, the people that keep the Student Union going and the administrators of whom no student will ever meet the majority. It takes a lot to balance a budget with that many people expecting a paycheck, and the university has struggled with it in the recent past. To his credit, President Brad Carson seems to have the budget less precariously situated, but at the same time, cuts have come for many across campus — including The Collegian. The university is a business, and a business always shoots to increase production and minimize costs.

But something as innocuous as food robots couldn’t possibly play a part in some grander scheme. Or maybe they could. If a person working on campus wanted to take their lunch and didn’t bring anything with them, they could take a break to grab their food. Simple. They might walk across campus to Subway or they might get in their car and drive to a Wendy’s just as easily as they might eat there or take it back to an office, depending on how much time they feel they have. But sometimes work piles up, and people feel busy. Food robots provide a convenient way to grab lunch without hardly ever stepping away from a desk. Outside of the 90 seconds or so it takes to leave the office, grab the food and return to work, a person could work pretty well non-stop, eating while they continue whatever project. As work continues to accumulate, and maybe as job roles expand to include more assignments, this becomes easier and easier to do. Or maybe a late night at the office occurs from time to time. Instead of having to make it home for dinner, it seems mighty doable to crank out that last task when one doesn’t even have to leave to eat. All of a sudden, people find it easier to skip lunch breaks and stay later, which becomes a convenient practice for the university with salaried employees whose clocked hours make no difference.

And sure, this does all seem a bit much — a mountain out of a molehill. Except it has already been happening for years. Silicon Valley has become notorious for these practices. Places like Google, whose headquarters has fitness classes and juice bars, offer seemingly limitless amenities to make work seem relaxed and fun. It’s such a soothing atmosphere, a 12 hour day flies by. Corporate law offices often do the same thing. If you find yourself working with the best of the best, you might also enjoy your breakfast and lunch at the office at a price cheaper than the cost because some firms subsidize their on-site meals. The concept of providing amenities at work to make it seem less and less leavable is not new nor is it exclusive to TU or even universities for that matter.

In any case, one should absolutely enjoy the food robots whenever they like. Staying somewhere to work on homework is a bit different than staying to keep at a job, and maybe after a few drinks with friends a food delivery might seem the best option. These robots hold no inherent evil, but one should still be aware of the circumstances that make them a good investment. Use them when you’d like, but by God, take a break from your job to get lunch.

Post Author: Zach Short