I’ve seen the future – and people aren’t in it!

At my lunchtime visit to Winn Dixie (I bought lunches for the next few workdays), I chose to go through the Self Checkout line, which meant that I scanned and bagged my own items (at no discount, I might add), all to get out of the store and back to the office a little bit faster.

Now, this is not completely new to me. Home Depot has had this for quite some time, and I really kind of like it. But it made me wonder what’s happened to personalization and familiarity. Back in the day (not my day, of course, but someone’s day), the local grocer knew everyone who came into his shop – and if he didn’t know them, he made small talk with them until he did! The pharmacist at the corner drugstore knew all about you and your kids, who had their tonsils out and who was just getting over a cold. There was that feeling of community, when a neighborhood was a place where people all knew each other and not just a collection of zip codes.

As I said, I have to admit that I kind of like the whole self-checkout thing, particularly at Home Depot because the cashiers never offered any added value. And the grocery store is okay, I guess, though I’d hate to imagine what I would have gone through if I bought something that didn’t have a barcode like tomatoes (which I do still need to buy on occasion, even though my tomato plant is slowly producing some very nice tomatoes). But every now and then, a personal connection is really nice.

I’m happy to chat with cashiers at most of the places I shop. I used to be a cashier (several times, actually), and I know how a nice customer can really make your day. On the flip side, as a customer, I like going to cashiers who are efficient, friendly, and knowledgeable. In short, I like cashiers who most closely reflect the local grocer’s abilities and personality. In fact, I liked the people at the bank branch near my old job so much that I would go to the window to make deposits, even though I could have easily used the ATM outside. There’s definitely something to be said for that personal connection.

So it makes me worry a little that these Self Checkout lines may well be growing in number and in scope. I wonder if other people out there will miss that .025% of the cashiers who add value to the transaction. I wonder if the “Wal-Martization” of America will ever allow us to have personal connections with our everyday vendors. I wonder if we’ll ever see the day again when people all know their neighbors and the postal carrier knows you by name.

It makes the future seem kind of lonely, doesn’t it?

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