We lost something when grocery stores swapped cashiers and baggers for robots, and that something is called a society.
For the last however many years since the switch, I’ve spurned the warm and smiling workers behind the till in favor of the robots. The robots offered speed and efficiency. They also made it easier to steal. At the beginning of the pandemic, using the robots also seemed more COVID-safe. Though I knew the robots threatened to take good union jobs away from workers, I figured the march of capitalism was inevitable in this regard, and so I quietly made my moral tradeoffs and joined the ranks.
But recently, my local grocer started cracking down on the 15-items-or-fewer policy, no doubt as part of its transformation into a maximum security prison. The policy shift forced me to wait in line to use “the people” — the alienating monicker I used to refer to workers in my robot era — and in so doing returned me to a more civilized world.
Sure, standing in line for a minute or two slows down the process, but after a hurried little half an hour of shopping, I welcomed the time to stop for a moment and allow my eyes to gloss over a gossip magazine. What HAS Shania Twain been up to lately??? Is she okay?? Now I know, and I’ll tell my friends the good news later on at dinner.
The time in line also allowed me to take inventory of my supplies. Did I forget blueberries? I did not. Nice job.
Instead of confronting a soulless touch screen, I confront a smiling face — one who wonders how my weekend is going, and one who also finds some mild, distant relief in the knowledge of Shania Twain’s recent good fortune.
If an item fails to ring up, rather curse and wait for the robot’s cop to show up, the cashier and I work it out together. And then there’s the pure childlike pleasure of watching the food travel down the conveyor belt, the joy of watching the bagger work out his little food puzzle, the solidarity of commiserating over inflation when the final price rings up, and the little bump of pride I feel when the cashier congratulates me on my savings after scanning my customer card.
This is the kind of world we left behind when we switched to the robots. Bring it back!!!
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