Shopping is not a social pastime for me. I treat it more of a duty, one I do to get the things I need to survive. When it is done for leisure, I am still very meticulous about what I purchase since money is a finite resource famous for its disappearing act.
Despite any solo shopping sprees I do, the shopping experience is never without social interactions. Whether a recluse bound to social shopping or a midnight mall walker, social contacts are inevitable. I usually choose the in-person approach, where many of those contacts are made by sales assistants and related persons.
Sales assistants and cashiers pass the time with smiles and scowls. Some sales assistants are quick to track your eye movements, triangulating them to stage products for your picking. Others are very bored and hunger for work that is only play. Some others are enthusiastic to socialize and see this time as a precious chance to chat with others. Light-hearted chatter is a nice touch to the store’s atmosphere, but only when the customer’s time remains a priority. Dismissing customers during self-absorbed babble erodes brand loyalty and the customer’s faith in stranger sympathy.
Self-cashier stations bypass this stranger sympathy. As heartless as that may sound, this is not to say that automatic cashiers should replace decency in the social milieu. Forbid that horrible thought. Rather, in this situation, there is no stranger to greet. No middleman, just a direct line from the money to the moneyed.
I was disgruntled knowing that now I would be checking out my own items, giving me one more rung to climb in a ladder of dreams. This thought stung me as it revealed how used I was to the idea of people serving me in this way. It was a minor issue, conveniently cleared by embracing this as a form of consumer empowerment.
The more existential concern remained in what looked to be another kink destabilizing the human enterprise. Removing social links in a social species is worrisome. I have heard many people echo this in their fears of automated services edging out human potential, but I have also heard just as many applaud the conservation of time and energy. While these automatic services do replace certain human jobs, they also create new time for new jobs that are more meaningful for the ego.
Sales assistants will persist through technological disruption as their roles become more versatile. (Shops specializing in quaint life will continue to hire human cashiers) The existential pang of faceless cashiers is a reminder of our social needs, but won’t diminish our roles in society. New kinds of employees will emerge to do what machines cannot. Our unique social blueprints are strengths to believe in an increasingly independent existence.