Self loathing at the self checkout
It's a weekly struggle. I weigh my desire to avoid superficial interactions against the knowledge that I could be automating someone out of a job.
Does the added convenience tip the scales in my favour, or am I upsetting the balance of labour relations?
Shuffle forward. Finally it's my turn. As I clumsily scan limp lettuce and parallel import tinned tomatoes across my terminal, another internal debate rages – should I scrump an apple? No one's watching … only kidding, I don't have it in me.
But what if I accidentally missed something? Faced with the pressure of the cucumber selection screen, how do I know which variety I've actually picked up?
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Life in the slow lane
And why does it seem to take so long to scan everything?
Human checkout workers' hands are a blur of efficiency. The self-checkout feels positively glacial in comparison – the unnatural movement of taking tinned beans from basket to bagging area via the scanner draws out the agony of the experience even further.
Gone the witty banter between cashier and customer, replaced by a patronising reminder that the machine I've been herded to does not accept cash.
Do you wish to proceed?
Well yes, I'm here aren't I, forlornly restocking my supplies of discount tuna and gas-ripened tomatoes, but what if I didn't wish – does self-scan etiquette give me first pick of the next available terminal?
Or am I dismissed to the back of the queue, to contemplate who really benefits?
Transferring labour from paid employees to the paying customer represents savings for the supermarket, but do they go into my pocket in the form of cheaper goods? After all, I'm doing the work. Or does it just mean bigger profits? And why are we still queuing at all?
It's not until the machine tells me of an unexpected item in the bagging area that I truly die inside.
This is a phrase composed by the machine's creators to walk the fine line between an outright accusation of theft and being just polite enough to plausibly deny it, robbing you of the offense it would otherwise be yours to take.
It's not until the machine tells me of an 'unexpected item in the bagging area' that I truly die inside
Some stores have now switched off the bagging area scales, deeming occasional theft a small price to pay for avoiding one of the most frustrating experiences in retail today.
But not all have, and as my terminal's light flashes I realise the only person being robbed today is me – of my dignity, as I wait impotently for a supervisor to reset the machine, the thousand yard stare from their dead eyes confirming that, unlike the customers queuing behind me, they actually checked out long ago.
Freedom at last
But then, with my transaction complete and freed from the technological purgatory, the light of freedom slowly begins to glimmer.
Although I feel a little less human each time I use pinpad to complete transaction, I'm free to pack my groceries as I see fit, to make more questionable decisions, like packing my GST-free frozen chook next to the GST-incurring toilet cleaner.
I wrestle my bags from the store and fill my lungs with cool, night air, but I fear the experience has cost me more than money.
My groceries are heavy, but not as heavy as my heart.