“I will stand and wait here all day,” woman tells pushy cashier in busy store filled with self-checkout machines

Mary Duncan

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.*

I recently learned that it took only sixty-six years to go from the Wright brothers making their first flight in an airplane to Neil Armstrong stepping out onto the Moon.

If you look back at the last hundred or so years of human history and innovation, it is staggering to think how far we have come. As a collective humanity, we’ve made enormous strides in the fields of science, medicine, space, and earth exploration, most of all that with the best of intentions. As a species, I think we are constantly striving to make things better and easier for ourselves, even though it’s obvious how often we as a species fail spectacularly at doing that.

My case in point is the self-checkout machine, but before we get to those, let’s think back even further to the invention of the debit card and associated pin pads.

Why is it that every store you go into has a different pin pad to use, with different steps to take and commands to follow in order to pay for things? I find it frustrating, sometimes embarrassing, and often a waste of my time to deal with a pin pad debit machine when a human used to easily be able to swipe my card on my behalf.

By the time I got used to paying on my own, then it was time to be faced with self-checkout machines popping up in stores. At first, I thought I would enjoy their novelty, and used one for the first time when I only had a few items to scan. It was actually so fun to check myself out, I felt like I was getting away with doing something bad.

Then, things took a turn.

In positions where I had more than a few items to scan, I would find myself inevitably running into a problem of some sort that would require an associate’s assistance.

“Place your item in the bagging area,” the machine would tell me, even though I’d already done that.

“Please scan your item again,” it would demand, even though I could clearly see it already rung up on the screen.

It was like a two strikes and you’re out situation, inevitably an attendant would come over, swipe a card, and fix things for you.

I was quick to realize that it actually took me longer to check out items on my own and deal with errors than it was to have my items scanned and bagged by store clerks. Not to mention, my low level of tolerance for annoyance and my anxiety made me start to loathe self-checkout machines.

Now, we are dealing with more and more robots in our lives. There is a robot that follows me around and gets in my way at the grocery store. Robots answer the phone when I call my pharmacy or most stores. Now, even “robot” cars on auto-pilot are causing calamitous crashes.

I refuse to take any more part in the robot takeover than I have to. I will not use a self-checkout machine. Ever.

This past weekend I went to a chain superstore to do quite a bit of shopping. I had a full cart, and in the vast line of check-out lanes, only a single one was open and run by a human. The rest of the shoppers were being herded into the self-checkout area to fend for themselves. I stood firm as the line behind me grew longer.

I was sure to make contact, long eye contact, with every store associate who walked by and did not hop on a register to help cut down the line of shoppers. I thought maybe my glares would get them to give better customer service, but now I am convinced they are trained to do as little as possible so they can be paid as little as possible while the robots take more of their jobs.

“Ma’am, would you like to move to self-checkout, we have many registers open there,” an associate eventually asked when I stared her down.

“Oh no,” I said. “I will stand and wait here all day for a human to ring me out, I am not going to support the use of robots to take jobs.”

She raised her eyebrows, gave me a nod, and walked away. I think the look in her eyes was respect.

How do you feel about self-checkout machines and the overall robot takeover?

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I write about the weird complexities of relationships to make a better life for me and my daughter through words. https://ko-fi.com/maryduncan

Connecticut State

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