When Humans Meet Their Waterloo
I absolutely detest crowds and my irritation only becomes compounded as I watch exasperated mothers making feeble attempts, (and failing), to negotiate with their children over the strategically placed sugar-drenched rubbish the stores set at eye level, designed to invoke these battles of emotional stamina.
And at the end of this foray is the always ever looming possibility that my exercise in controlled civility would have one final assault from the till clerk – the ‘Gloom Master’ herself!
Despite my exercise in trying to invoke a smile from the woman several weeks ago with my carefully selected floral bouquet, I’m sad to say the past few times I’ve been in her queue, she’s been the same miserable, warmth dissolving, spirit zapping person I first encountered. I do look at her with more compassion now, despite her irascible demeanour, but I must admit she hardly wins the ‘Miss Congeniality Award’ of the New Millennia !
After collecting my trolley of bits and bobs I headed to the check out tills. Over the months I’ve conditioned myself to go directly to Gloom Master’s till. It’s not that I’m some self abasing glutton for kinky mental abuse, it’s just that I keep hoping (praying) that I’ll see a new spark in the old gal.
But surprise of all surprises, not only was Gloom Master not at her till, the entire register, belt, etc., was gone! In its place was a behemoth device containing electronic screens, numerous touch pad signs and a scanning device for the customer to use rather than the Gloom Master.
As I walked up to the device it welcomed me and invited me to scan my first item. And it guided me throughout as if I were some mindless amoeba, telling me to place the scanned item on the belt, scan the next item, and so on. With each item I scanned there was some form of interaction from ‘the machine.’ When I finished following its instructions, ‘the machine’ somehow sensed that I was finished and it 'invited’ me to select how I would pay. It announced the amount due; it took my card details, processed the payment, and issued a receipt.
And as I pulled the receipt from the printer, ‘the machine’ said ‘thank you for shopping with us today!’
There it was, the entire process of human interaction – precisely what we want in our interactions with sales clerks, all neatly wrapped up into a simple, concise, effective, and even friendly experience. (Ladies & Gentlemen, there's a fearsome foreboding here!)
And Gloom Master – Alice, the human with all her frailties and needs - where was she? Well, with the advances of modern technology, the store was faced with the ‘sad’ necessity of having redundancies. Alice was among a number of the ‘older’ employees who received a ‘nice’ letter (saying thank you, no doubt), explaining that their particular talents were no longer required.
It was probably my imagination as I looked down the dozens of tills still manned by humans, but it appeared that not one of them was over the age of 18.
Gloom Master Alice has indeed met her Waterloo. But truth be known; I’d always prefer her grumpy, yet very real, human interaction over a machine that says ‘thank you.’
Technology has achieved astonishing advances. But technology will never be able to replace humans interacting with humans. It’s that strand of fibre that holds lives together and gives us meaning to our own life.
Now, I’m just wondering…if I brought flowers to ‘the machine’ would it go out to dinner with me? I could tell it was trying to flirt a little.