At Lawyers, Guns and Money, djw has a post following up on a post by Erik Loomis about the pullback from robocheckers by grocery stores, something Erik is glad to see happening, because the point of robocheckers isn’t customer convenience or savings; it’s putting money in corporate pockets by putting people out of work.
It’s rare that we so obviously see how corporations seek to lay people off. It’s even rarer that the capitalist plan to employ no one doesn’t advance. So this is a good thing.
I don’t use the automatic checkouts anywhere---I avoid ATMs when I can too---partly because I agree with Erik, but also because I enjoy dealing with store clerks, bank tellers, and, well, other human beings. I also don’t like it that robocheckers require me to do for free work stores used to pay people to do.
But YMMV. Many people like the automatic checkout and, going by the comments on djw’s post, some people who do like it because it’s bringing us one step closer to the day when they’ll never have to interact with another human being when they go shopping. I suppose, ideally, they will never have to go shopping. They can order their groceries online already. Now what they need are robots who will deliver them to their doorsteps.
What's funny to me, though, is how many of these commenters have no idea what going grocery shopping is like for most people.
These guys---most of them are guys; in fact, I’ll bet even the ones I can’t tell if they’re male or female by their handles are guys---seem to think that everybody uses grocery stores the way they do, dashing in and out on their way to or from somewhere more important to pick up one or two things they need right away. Even if they’re aware that that’s not the way most people shop, they seem to think that stores should be set up to cater primarily to their needs anyway.
And one of those needs is the need not to have to acknowledge the existence of other human beings.
The idea that for most people shopping is a welcome social experience gives them the heebie-jeebies. One guy objects to having to get all “touchy-feely” just to pick up a loaf of bread, as if taking a few seconds to say things like “Good morning” and “Unusual weather we’re having” and “How ‘bout them Sox?” and “Thank you” was as self-revelatory and fraught with embarrassment as a trust exercise in group therapy instead of just a matter of common courtesy.
But clearly these guys don’t look around them whenever they are forced to risk contact with the riff-raff to see who else is in the store with them and what those people are doing. (The first thing that ought to strike their notice is that most of the other people shopping are not guys.) They don’t notice, except to be irritated by it, that people go shopping in order to talk to other people or that shopping, real shopping, is difficult to do without having to talk to other people. Shoppers don’t just need to talk to store employees, though. They need to talk to other shoppers, and not just to pass the time of day. They exchange information, some of it immediately useful---“Is this on sale?” “How long does this keep?” “Have you ever tried this?”---some of it still useful but not right here in the store---“There’s a meeting when?” “The town wants to do what?” “She said that?”---and they rely on running into friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances while they’re out in order to get that information.
They also enjoy the company.
It’s true that they can get a lot of that information online these days. And increasingly, through social media, people are finding all the company they need online. But here’s the thing.
Most normal people don’t spend a lot of time online.
They don’t like it. They don’t need to. And they can’t afford to---most people do not have jobs where they get to sit at a desk in front of a computer out of sight of their bosses with lots of downtime in their days during which they can goof off by surfing the web. Grocery store clerks, for instance.
And when they get home from work, most people don’t rush right to their computers.
My point is, that those guys, like me, and like most of you, are not normal.
It is a very weird thing to spend hours and hours of every day staring into a computer screen.
(Unfortunately, it is not all that weird to spend hours and hours of every day staring at screens of some kind. It’s just that most of those screens are television screens, and that’s a different question and a different problem.)
This is changing. It is becoming less weird, although I believe that humans being social animals and therefore made for society (Thank you, Thomas Jefferson), most human beings will continue to seek out and enjoy the society and physical presence of other human beings in preference to staring into computer screens. But right now, most people live their lives offline and are happy with that.
And this is something those of us who are happily wired need to keep in mind. I don’t mean just the cyber-utopians looking forward to the day when Second Life and real life are the same things. Those of us here on the left side of the bandwidth who pride ourselves on being part of the “NetRoots” and like to believe that we’re taking part in the public square and influencing the debate while snug at home or wasting time at the office have a tendency to forget that most people aren’t paying attention to us because most people’s first impulse when something excites or outrages them isn’t to reach for a keyboard…
unless it’s the keypad on their cell, in which case they are usually about to arrange some actual physical contact with another human being.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to run out for some milk, I’ll be going to the convenience market down the road. They don’t have an automatic checkout there but one of the clerks doesn’t like me and maybe she’ll be working so I won’t have to talk to anyone.
Photo by intrepid Mannionville Daily Gazette photographer Lance Mannion. Taken Wednesday, September 28, 2011.