Sunday, November 08, 2009

ATMs and Digital Self-Checkouts (and why I hate Shopping Malls)

OK, so froggie here has nothing to do with ATMs and/or Digital Self Checkouts. But I took this picture last night on our back porch and thought it was very cool. During the daytime, this guy—or maybe it's a 'gal', which is actually likely—sits in one of our downpipes and makes occasional strange noises, which reverberate through the piping system.

Back to ATMs. Couple of days ago I heard a report that Australians have taken with a vengance to using the self-checkouts that are now sprining up like weeds in supermarkets. It made me think about something that happened a while back, when I was discussing ATMs with someone, and specifically the use of outside-the-bank-ATMs to withdraw money instead of going to the the cashiers inside.

Of course, the way this efficient world of ours is going, checkout-chicks and checkout-guys as well as cashiers are becoming so rare and overworked that, yes, one is almost forced into using the electronic devices supplied by supermarkets and banks alike. Except that I usually don't—not in supermarkets anyway, where I'm quite willing to wait in a queue, if not too long, for the next COC (Check Out Chick), rather than subject myself to becoming a part of the supermarket's automated system for processing customers. Actually, let's not call it 'customers', for that's long turned into an insult to our intelligence, because we're nothing else but wealth-providers to the creeps who own the supermarket empires; and, yes, that includes the shareholders, who really don't give a rat's ass about how they make their money, as long as they make it. Actually, shareholders are the worst! They're the economic equivalent of those meat eaters who want their steak served up in such a way that you'd never know it comes from a slaughtered animal.

In a similar vein I find the very existence of these large suburban shopping centers offensive to my sensibilities—or, for that matter, the malls that have replaced them in many city centers, where once upon a time there were 'shops' instead of whatever it is that's replaced them. They're just large collections of outlets for the flow of goods from some producer, mostly in China, to those poor benighted souls called 'consumers'. To think of an equivalent, consider the automated feeding systems used for battery hens. They're made to look pretty to attract the consumers—think of honey attracting bees, or rotten meat flies—but they're actually unbelievably ugly, soul-less and actually completely devoid of any trace of what you might call 'esthetic quality'.

Going into a modern shopping mall or a large department store like Target, Big W, K-Mart, Myers, David Jones, etc makes me edgy and uneasy. It's as if every fiber of my being rebelled against being a part—actually the ass-end, to to put too fine a point on it!—of that giant pipe of commodity-flow that powers our artificial and pointless urban economies.

Back to digital self-checkouts. Whenever you see one, remember this: you are looking at one of the final steps in the urbanization of mankind. Not only has this process destroyed 'community', but it is proceeding to further erode any, even casual, contact, between already-distant human beings. I'd rather talk to a dull-witted checkout operator who hates being there, but only does it because s/he needs the bucks, than check myself out digitally and interact with a machine. This isn't some variation of Ludditism, but an attempt to salvage what remain salvageable of my nature as a social human being. Plugging into an electronic chain of processes, even if it's at the end of the pipe, brings us doewn to the level of the process itself, and makes us slaves to those who want us to be like that. These people have no damn right to do this—and yet we let them, more and more so every damn day!

Digital urbanization if the death of human interaction. Never mind the internet and its connecting of people from far and near in all sorts of ways. None of this matters, and none of this will help us in any way to remain noticeably human-social-animal, if we can't, as a matter of everyday existence, continue to interact not just with people we know, but also those we don't, and who just drift in and out of our lives. Interaction with only those we know sclerotifies our social capabilities, and as those people are becoming fewer and fewer—and as many of them are becoming more removed in a physical sense, because they're just entities presumed to be human at the other ends of digital communication lines—we effectively become autistic, whether we like it or not. It may make us in to whizkids and whizadults in many ways, but it also results in some serious retardation of capabilities that once were considered essential to our humanity.

The price of 'efficiency', as implemented through the degradation and impoverishment of human interactions, including 'casual' ones, has never been calculated; as most people, and especially those who should know better—like educationalists, who should be promoting human-human contact-time, rather than human-computer contact time—just don't seem to 'get' that there actually is a problem.

The Piper will claim his prize though. He's already doing it, except that nobody seems to notice. And when it's all done, and when he's taken the children away forever, we'll all wonder how we could have been so dismally stupid.


Haszari said...

You should move to Dunedin. (bahahaha!)

When the self-checkouts hit Pak N Save here, they were hugely popular, and there were short or no lines for the traditional checkouts!

Till said...

Surprise fails to materialise...