Last summer, my older son’s baseball tournaments often took us to the small cities of Pennsylvania. It seemed as if on each trip, we would pass yet another abandoned Bon-Ton — in Lebanon, in Harrisburg, in Allentown. Each time, I would think about that Ithaca clerk coming to the aid of the frantic Christmas shopper, and of the gratitude and social warmth of human consumer experiences.

That clerk’s modern counterpart might be a woman in one of the nearby fulfillment centers, rushing to keep up with the picking and packing of the orders we are now placing from the safety and comfort of home with barely a notion of the people involved in delivering our wish to our door. Something, I realized, has been lost in that transition.