Advancing Ourselves out of Existence
Brian Campbell

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Have you ever felt that technology is moving too fast for us? I have felt it for quite some time, but what I have seen recently has driven home the belief that we are getting too far ahead of ourselves.

I am seeing a very disturbing trend in our grocery stores. You have probably seen the trend yourself, the last time you went shopping. That trend is the “self-checkout” stations popping up all over the place. That is only step one of the disturbing trend. I have now seen step two, and I am not at all happy.  Some Superstores have closed down their Express Checkouts. Now you have to choose between the self-checkout and potentially standing in a line behind people buying hundreds of dollars in groceries. Walmart hasn’t gone this far yet, but I have noticed that they are gradually decreasing the number of people working the Express Checkout lane.

The manager of my Superstore in my neighbourhood advised me that the end plan is to eventually decrease the amount of full service checkouts to three, taking away jobs as they add more self-checkout stations. While we have been whining and complaining that immigrants and refugees are taking away our jobs, technology has been gobbling our jobs at an alarming rate, all in the name of progress.

Yes, that’s right. The technology that could be used for creating a better life for humanity is being used to make wealthy people richer, while stealing people’s jobs, thereby adding to our already out of hand homeless and jobless population. I’ve been told that this trend will not get rid of jobs as much as it will change them. New technology, I’m told, will create more jobs in the tech industry. People will be needed to create the equipment, people to set them up and make sure that they are functioning, and people to maintain, repair and update them as time goes on. Really? Exactly how many of those jobs will be eventually done by machines as well? Have you thought of that? Please don’t tell me that there will be enough tech jobs to make up for the ones lost to machines, because we all know that isn’t true.

On top of which, what about entry level jobs? Not everyone will be able to learn a tech job. I know that the younger generation is getting more and more tech savvy, but what about the older generations who are currently holding cashier jobs and who are not able to be retrained into a tech job? What happens to them? What about those younger people who don’t fit into the technology mold? Are they doomed to live out their lives unemployed on their parents’ couch?  What if their parents lose their jobs to technology?

What about those of us who just like good old fashioned customer service? What about those of us who like to talk to a person while we are getting our groceries, have a conversation, get a smile, a thank you, and “have a nice day”? I have long thought that customer service was getting to be a thing of the past, but it is being hastened along by technology.

As kids, we used to learn customer service in our first jobs, at grocery or convenience stores, or at local cafes and fast food places. Those early places were often Mom and Pop businesses who relied on repeat business, so customer service was driven into their young employees until it was second nature. Now, many business are chain franchises, where the bottom line is how much money you make, how many people you serve, not how you treat your customers. The younger generation is being taught that people don’t matter, money does.

Stores like Superstore have been gradually training us to get used to serving ourselves more, and to become less reliant on customer service, first through the “bag your own groceries” method, (but they made that make sense by lowering the prices of their groceries), then by getting us to reuse our grocery bags, (but that also made sense because we were saving the environment). Now they are getting more blatant. They are getting rid of their cashiers and replacing them with self-checkouts, no incentives or reasons, just take it or leave it.

The technology takeover started with machines taking away human beings to talk to when you call a company to ask a question or express a concern. Now it is taking away cashiers at grocery stores. Soon customer service will be nothing more than a piece of ancient history. I want that human touch. I want to feel like I am important enough for you to actually speak to me, greet me, ask me if I found everything I was looking for. I want to feel like I am more important than just the money in my pocket.

That brings me to the next issue I have. Keep in mind that many self-checkouts do not accept cash, so one of their intents is to convert their customers from paying cash to only using plastic. Remember the days when many stores would only accept cash? Well, that is now reversing. Businesses no longer respect cash, they would rather have a piece of plastic, or better yet, an e-transfer straight into their bank accounts. No fuss, no muss, no change to make, less chance of theft, less chance of error. Just swipe your card and money changes hands. Easy. We are being converted to a cashless society, whether we want to be or not.

Pretty soon the only thing we will be able to use cash for is handouts to all the homeless people who will soon be lining the streets in even greater numbers. Except that even they won’t be able to use it, as the grocery stores will no longer accept cash. It is a vicious circle.

This isn’t the first time that I have complained that our reliance of technology is getting out of hand. The science fiction writers who, for years, have been warning us of the dangers of technology getting out of hand, never realized the true danger. From 2001, A Space Odyssey, to The Terminator, they all warned us of artificial intelligence rebelling and destroying the human race. They didn’t consider the possibility that the machines won’t have to kill us off, that we will end up so assimilated into our need for them that we will eventually make ourselves obsolete.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against technology or scientific advancement. I’m not prepared to give up my computer in favour of a Smith Corona typewriter. I still believe that there is a lot of good that can come out of increased technology. We just need to use it responsibly. To help people, not merely to help rich people get richer, by taking away poor people’s jobs..

We need to consider the effects of computerizing our stores, banks and other places that currently employ people, especially in areas where humans normally interact with each other. Before taking away these positions and replacing them with machines, maybe we need to consider the humans being affected, not just the bottom line.

We need to step back a second and take a look at the way technology is being integrated into our society, and its end result. Do we really need the latest, greatest newest device? Maybe it’s time for us to stand up and say NO! You can’t keep replacing humans with machines without considering the consequences. We are more important than the bottom line. Technology is meant to serve humanity, not replace it. We want to be here to see the future. So, before dropping that new piece of technology on an unsuspecting public, STOP AND THINK!