Saturday, 14 March 2009


One of the supermarkets near my flat has just installed a bank of those self-service checkouts.
After some in-the-field research and speculation I have decided that I don't like them.

Sure they have some good points, shy people are more likely to buy condoms, pregnancy tests or items of a personal nature; you can pack your own groceries and don't have to stop the checkout kid from putting tins of food on top of your bread or carton of eggs; and they take up less space and help speed up the tempo of the store so you can get in and out quicker but the bad points seem to outweigh the good.

Firstly, without the perceived judgement of the checkout clerk or other shoppers in the queue certain folk may be far more likely to make food purchases that are bad for them which they know they shouldn't be making but can't quite reign in their impulse control enough to reject. I speak from experience :-b

Secondly, the more of these self-service checkouts they install, the less actual staff they have to employ and train and now is not the time to be phasing people out.

And the biggie, thirdly, for some people the supermarket checkout represents the sum total of their regular social interaction.
Public transport ticketing systems are automated, you can buy almost anything online and certain lines of work don't require any verbal communication at all* so this may have been their only moment of mandatory small-talk and the more they're able to avoid it the more difficult it will become and the less likely they'll engage in it voluntarily.

This probably sounds a little 'back in my day' or 'you're taking this too seriously technophobe' but I do think it's a factor.
Some people will always be social and tactile and interactive no matter how many virtual options are available and some people will always struggle in those situations but the less practise they get the more likely they are to withdraw.

I'm not saying people should be forced into situations they're uncomfortable with but without a little push and a bit of chance I might not have found out about or become involved with a lot of the parts of my life and the close friends I really value now and I would hate to have missed out on that.

And that's why I think self-service checkouts are The Matrix.
Thank you.
Wait, what?

*And of course some people don't work

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