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Where Have all the Cashiers Gone?

 article about Where Have all the Cashiers Gone?

This article belongs to Just Bee column.

People have become quite fanatical with "saving time" these days. In a society where the average American juggles a job (or two) along with a family, a hobby and a social life, we yearn for extra minutes, even hours in the day. What would we do with this time once we acquired it?  Who knows?  Still, we go to great lengths to obtain it, driving through banks and restaurants, sometimes eating entire meals in the car, which for many, couples as an "office on wheels" where business transactions and conference calls are made.  We set up automatic bill pay systems through the computer, purchase clothes and shoes online, and yes, we even exert our right to self-checkout at various merchandise stores.


In theory, the self-checkout aisle sounded like a good idea. That is, before I tried it for myself and began to rethink it altogether.


Recently, my mother and I made a quick trip to the grocery store  (on a busy Sunday afternoon) to pick up a few odds and ends.  And with our "10 items or less", we scanned the lines for the shortest one.  Anxious to be on our way, we chose an "express checkout" lane.  As we made our way closer to the front of the line, we realized that all the labeled "express checkout" aisles were also "self checkout" lanes. Since we were already there and one register was open, we decided to give it a try. 


We approached a computer screen that prompted us to scan, weigh and bag each item.  It appeared to be simple enough.  I successfully scanned a bag of lettuce through as my mother placed it in the bag.  It was almost fun.  But when our second item didn't scan the first time, things began to go awry.  As I attempted it again, the computer screen blinked and bleeped and ordered me to wait for assistance in this endeavor.  It took a few minutes for the attendant (a.k.a. cashier) to arrive and essentially check out and bag our remaining items. In that moment, my mother and I, realizing the irony of the situation, tacitly swore we would never choose the self-checkout lane again.   


Since then, however, I've been noticing these self-checkout lanes are surfacing in a myriad of stores: supermarkets, hardware stores, and all-purpose depots. I continue to avoid them for several reasons, of which I'll share with you.  First and foremost, the use of these devices rarely saves time or gets you out of the store more quickly.  In fact, more times than not, a mere slip of the wrist on your part will cause an error that will subsequently freeze the checkout function.  Other times, you may follow directions to a tee, but a sluggish computer may hinder your efforts, thus keeping you in the store much longer than necessary.


Also, in considering the many stores that employ these computerized cashiers instead of their living, breathing counterparts, consider how much easier it is to shoplift through these lanes.  Several friends of mine have admitted to "accidentally" pilfering items that weren't read by the scanner. And of course, for the more seasoned thief, this service may be especially appealing.  Likewise, the more we support self-checkout machines, the more people may be out of jobs, right?  Nowadays, there are considerably less live human beings at these stores to begin with, and that number may continue to dwindle if we persist in averting the "live ones" by marching straight to the cyber-personnel instead.


I will continue to evade "self-checkouts" because, truth be told, I actually enjoy human contact. In fact, I most recently had a conversation with my supermarket cashier, a high school student named Veronica. We chatted about our favorite Broadway shows.  I left that store with a smile, and feeling good about making the acquaintance of a girl nearly half my age but definitely wise beyond her years.


Perhaps it is the cacophony of cloned computer voices echoing from those machines that makes me question: Where have all the cashiers gone? And sometimes I can't help but feel as if I am living in some sci-fi movie from the eighties. You know, the one where a utopia suddenly goes terribly wrong.  Still, it is certainly refreshing to be able to connect with someone, to share a smile or some banter while completing some of the most mundane tasks, such as replenishing my toilet paper supply or purchasing a loaf of bread.  And yes, I realize there is a considerable amount of disgruntled clerks out there, some of whom may not even crack a smile, let alone speak to me, when I cross their paths.  But is it possible that these employees are grumpy because they don't feel appreciated or preferred?  If this is the case, I'd like to think that a smile or a few kind words from someone like you or me might change all that.

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