At the grocery store near my house, they installed some fancy-dancy automated check-out machines a few months ago.

The concept, in theory, is that technology is an advance because it gets people through the check-out process without having to deal with check-out people – you know, the kind that costs you money, demand raises, treat customers with indifference on occasion, and call in sick. Given grocery stores operate on razor-thin margins, the machines are seen as an godsend.

The problem is the machines suck.

First, the grocery experience is already impersonal enough. You do all the work; you pick, you pack, you push your cart around the store, you bag your own groceries, and then take them home. Now, the machines remove the personal part of grocery shopping.

Second, the machines are annoying. Who was the genius who provided the audio instructions. In particular, it drives me crazy when the voice says “Put your items in the bag”. Listen, I’ve been grocery shopping for a long time so the last thing I need is someone telling me to put the items in the bag. I mean, where else am I going to put the items?

Third, the system is imperfect, which is why there are always a few employees monitoring the situation to keep people from banging their heads against the machines when things don’t as they should.

Not surprisingly, I’ve abandoned the machines. I want to deal with a real person even if the check-out person isn’t always super-friendly.

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