The world is becoming a less civil place, little by little, day by day. We flip off drivers on the Expressway, bellow into our cell phones in public, leave cruel anonymous comments on websites, scream obscenities at sporting events, and generally behave badly, all of us, more and more and more and more. Which is why I was delighted to see that supermarkets are giving up the ghost on those self-serve checkout counters. Their demise will be one teeny, tiny step back toward civility.
I curse at those self-checkout machines. I curse beneath my breath when the machine tells me to move my purchase into the bag, when it tells me I haven’t moved my purchase into the bag yet, when it asks me to read the tags on my pears and peaches and apples and enter the numbers. Most of all, I curse when it reminds me to take my paper money from the discreet, inconveniently located slot that, counterintuitively, is nowhere near where I put my money in or where the coin change issues forth. How many millions of bucks do you think supermarkets have made off forgotten bills since the debut of those machines?
But I digress. I think the self-serves failed because most of us have jobs where we sit in front of screens all day, and homes in which we and our families sit in front of screens all night, and when we hit the supermarket, whether it’s for a week’s worth of groceries or a lousy quart of milk, we don’t want to “do it ourselves” by tapping on a screen. We want the momentary grace of human interaction—a face to smile into, a voice to ask, “Did you find everything you want?,” a human hand to extend our change and put our loaf of Stroehmann’s in a bag. To do it for us, so just during this brief business transaction we can feel, not “connected” via buttons and electronic doodads, but “connected” in the old-fashioned face-to-face sense. So we feel less alone.
It’s pathetic that we’ve let ourselves become so isolated by technology that buying a dozen eggs has the emotional impact of an hour-long massage, but there you have it. We may be pumping our own gas, running our cars through the self-serve car-wash, doing our banking online, but by gum, 10 years after the checkout machines were introduced, we’ve finally drawn a line in the kitty litter. This is one chore we won’t do ourselves, thank you very much—“Thank you” being, of course, something one never says to a machine.