took them for granted until the machines came. We all did.
For years we had lined up and stood before them as they scanned
and beeped and offered us cashback. Their names were written
on badges, their lives happened somewhere else, without strip
lights or temperature control.
And they tolerated us with kindness, these check-out assistants.
They tolerated our endless plastic; our whining children;
our tedious patter, our body odour. Some knew instinctively
when to double-bag. They were good humoured, these people,
despite poor wages and lumbar region pain.
And now the check-out assistant is under threat. Their livelihood
(and our sanity) is under threat from the rise of the machine.
Automated check-out stations now invite us to put the item
in the bag then take the last item out of the bag. When we
take the last item out of the bag, the machine invites us
to put the last item back in the bag. If you get it wrong
twice, a flashing light activates an obedience chip in the
head of a nearby human resource. This person is the guardian
of a special key which, at the machine’s bidding, allows
access to the Dogma Override Function (typically, a panel
on the touch-screen that says “Ignore”).
And the machines have started growing in confidence. They
now ask you if you have brought your own bag. Some of them
offer cashback. Last week I heard one give cheek to a woman.
In the queue, we muttered outrage. Muttered only – in
case another machine heard us. We braved eye contact with
human staff and we all shared the same thoughts: aren’t
the supermarkets making enough money? Can we have humans instead
of machines, please? We don’t mind gadgets and technologies,
but we don’t want to buy biscuits from a Dalek.