The Loneliness of the Self-Scanner

Been to a supermarket lately? Noticed anything?

Those of us in the UK who don’t have our groceries delivered [and I have penned a blog post about this in the past: Wandering Around in the Bagging Area] and who frequent supermarkets are being subjected to an offensive regarding the way we gather our comestibles etc.

It goes like this: A number of members of staff are allocated to diverting we unwary shoppers into the self-checkout tills, or worse, into the scan-as-you-go system.

From the shop’s point of view, I suppose the aim is ultimately to cut out manned check-outs altogether, chopping their wages bills and perhaps maximising shop floor space.

A quick glance around the store tells me I’m not alone in being unenthusiastic about the automisation of the shopping experience. For a start, it’s not like I haven’t tried it; it’s just that they are never fully automated, are they? Something always goes wrong. A number of people have to be employed simply to sort the glitches which renders the machines pointless-

Then there’s the term ‘self-check-out’. It’s a little too uncomfortable for those in later life. Myself, I’m not ready to ‘check-out’ yet.

Scan-as-you-go may well be the answer to the supermarkets’ prayers but it has no appeal for me.  We have grown used to weighing and labelling our fruit and vegetables in French supermarchés, however I’ve no desire to scan each and every thing I want to toss into my trolley. I want a carefree wander among the aisles, browsing and speculating.

Our nearest grocer is an upmarket, dearer one and dominated by older, retiree shoppers. Some of them are very elderly, shuffling around in slippers and comfort clothing, dependent on the trolley for support. In my younger, more ignorant, more impatient, time-poor days I’d castigate the elderly shoppers, fumbling for their purses, dropping things, peering with rheumy eyes at the card reader, but as one whose hands are no longer entirely at their owner’s bidding I have more sympathy for the slow, muddled, dithering old folks as they dawdle up and down deliberating at the freezers and pondering over the bread.

For a number of the lonely elderly a chat with a checkout operator may well be the only small piece of human contact they’ll get that day. If the human interaction element of the shopping experience is denied them they’ll be deprived of an essential bit of contact. I too want this minute bit of engagement. I want to be greeted, to be asked how I am, to have a snippet of conversation about the loaf I’ve selected or how beautiful the apples look. Maybe when I worked all day [talking] and only wanted to lie down in a dark room when I got home I’d have relished the thought of completing the shopping quickly and in solitary silence but I’m not sure that becoming fully automated is such an advantageous initiative.

There are already threads in the media over our screen use; how we choose to peer at tiny screens instead of conversing, how we’d prefer to play solitary screen games rather than engage with other humans. What effect is all this solitary behaviour going to have on us in the future? Answers on a virtual postcard…

Advertisements

Keep it Local

What kind of environment would we like generations to come to inherit? Do we even care about the world that we will no longer inhabit?

In a week that has seen a brand, spanking new shopping centre opening amidst much celebration in large city in the North of the UK I cannot help but heave a weary sigh. This has all happened before. In the 80s there was an explosion of shopping centres, vaunted as exciting, innovative temples to consumerism and incorporating restaurants, cinemas-even an indoor theme park with fairground rides [at The Metro Centre, Gateshead].

The UK is entering an era of financial uncertainty. Many areas of trade, finance and employment are already showing signs of slowing and inflation is set to rise after a long, settled period. You have to wonder why anyone would view a large, new shopping centre as a good idea.

My own, subjective, personal view of shopping centres is that they do not represent [as one of the instigators of the Leeds structure suggested] an ‘experience’:

“You can’t just build the same environments you’ve done for the last 15 years,” he says, “you have to create places that people want to touch, want to feel, want to be in. The retail is almost secondary. Experience is everything.”

The retail is almost secondary? Why go then? And what does he mean by ‘spaces that people want to touch, want to feel’? I am imagining crowds of shoppers, bags in one hand, the other feeling along the walls outside the shops or perhaps bending to pat the shiny floors. I can think of more uplifting ways to ‘experience’. Why not visit an art gallery or a museum? Better still, go outside and walk-in a park or along a canal tow path, or across a field.

I can’t remember when I’ve ever spent an entire day at a shopping centre. These days I take the view that if I can’t find what I’m looking for in an hour I won’t bother. And when I shop I don’t want to run the gauntlet of endless traffic to be enclosed in an emporium consisting of malls, escalators and mile upon mile of over-lit, over-heated, stuffy shops. I may want to visit a couple of shops, but not to be stifled. I want to go outside between one shop and another. I don’t want to spend hours trundling up a multi-story carpark ramp attempting to find a space and then not be able to locate my car again afterwards [or even remember which storey it is on].

Not everyone is fortunate enough to live where they can walk to buy items they need and not everyone is willing to do so, but in these times of increasing traffic and pressure on our economy shouldn’t we be looking to work, shop and pursue leisure activities in our local areas?

How not to Succeed in the Job Market

                I was surprised when Offspring requested that I look through her application for temporary work. This is because I am the least qualified adult on the entire globe to be able to make a judgement on such matters, since my track record on achieving interviews, let alone the resulting positions, is virtually nil.

                I do remember my first, halting steps into the world of work. My first position, whilst still a schoolgirl was as a Saturday girl working as a shop assistant in a toy shop, obtained for me by a friend who was well established there. The manager, a small, bald, bespectacled man was at a loss to know what to do with us, as we were in a constant state of excited hilarity, creeping downstairs from our lunch breaks to wind things up and set them off across the floor, or executing hopeless addition and calculation of change, or attempting to distract each other whilst serving-all very puerile and immature [which we were]. Eventually I was sacked.

                I was able to obtain work easily as a college student, by being prepared to do [almost] anything at all, including cleaning the local hospital or packing soup powder, [a night shift, and more hilarity as we dysfunctional students were all put at machines together].

                When the serious task of snatching a teaching post came up I had to scrub up and set off looking eager, trudging first to Croydon, where I did my best to appear confident and succeeded only in provoking the interviewer into asking me if I ‘really wanted the job’. Then to County Hall, London, where a representative of the Inner London Education Authority’s only question was ‘are you staying on for a fourth year?’ When I responded in the negative he said, ‘Right, we’ll put you down for Lambeth’. Job done. I was employed.

                Later, as I moved through life and around the country my applications were never a resounding success and such interviews as I was able to get never went swimmingly.

                No, all the teaching jobs I ever had were got from doing them already. I would do a casual day or two then get asked to stay on, then on for the rest of the term, then would I consider becoming a permanent member of staff. When I needed to move on the entire process would begin again, with my useless applications and my boundless talent for failing at interviews. The only successful interview of the latter years was for a temporary job, for which I had been, not only the solitary applicant but the sole interviewee. Of course my self esteem might have been a little dented had I failed-and sure enough, once I was doing the job I was offered the permanency.

                So no, I am no expert on applications and interviews. But I comfort myself that I can’t be all that bad at working…can I?

Boxing Day-a daft party or a bun fight?

                When I was a child, spending my early years in the 50s, Boxing Days were passed with many of the traditional customs of the time. We’d visit relatives or have them visit us. We’d exchange gifts [the meaning of ‘Boxing’] and have tea. The visits would be to aunts, uncles and cousins and the gifts would be toys, games, puzzles or books. One of my favourite toys as a six year old was ‘Fuzzy Felt’, of which I had several sets. A set consisted of a felt board and a collection of felt characters and objects based around a theme. My preferred theme was the farmyard and I could occupy hours arranging the small figures and objects into different positions and scenarios. This, I think, was the beginning of story-telling for me. A cursory look on the web confirmed that Fuzzy Felt is still available, although now often termed ‘retro’. Invented in 1950, it was a ‘must have’ for children of the early 50s. My brothers favoured metal Meccano and occasionally allowed me to play with it, as with their train set, which occupied most of their bedroom floor.

                During the ensuing days we’d have to put in some time writing thank-you letters for all our gifts. My mother would have written a list of presents and donors, some of whom would have sent postal orders [also still available!] for an amount to be divided between the three of us. It could be tricky. One pound was not easily divisible into three, neither was ten shillings. We would receive 6 shillings and 8 pence from a pound or 3 shillings and 4 pence from ten shillings. It is not surprising that despite an innate deficiency in mathematical competency I was always able to remember what one pound, or ten shillings, divided by three was.

                It was a thrill to be allowed to stay up for a party, often held at our house. In those unsophisticated times it would consist of parlour games-in a circle or with pencils and paper. My father considered himself something of a wag and organised all of this including the ‘prizes’-items he’d fastened to the Christmas tree, including packets of indigestion tablets or a small tin of baked beans, all wrapped up.

                So what now, for Boxing Day? It seems vast numbers of people like to spend this next day of their holiday camping outside on a pavement in the cold and the howling gales waiting for a department store to open its doors, in order to join a galloping stampede into the interior and a fight to gain access to a designer handbag they cannot do without. I like a bargain as much as the next person but much as I wrack my brain I cannot think of a single object in a shop I’d wish to queue up all night in the cold for. Can you?