I went with my mother to the really big supermarket where she buys her groceries. I needed a few things and she needed a few things, so we went together.
After self-processing my purchases at one of the many self-checkout stations, I waited for my mother at the front of the store. It was a long wait.
People kept asking if they could help me. I thought about answering, “Yes, you can get my mom out of that long line over there and ring up her groceries.”
Mom would not have allowed it. She is determined that she will never use the self-checkout lanes. This despite the fact that her regular store now has more do-it-yourself scanning stations than those where an attendant will both scan your items and bag them for you.
“Every time they put up another one of those self-checkout things,” Mom said that day, “one less person has a job. Probably more than one.”
Her point is valid. And she is not the only person concerned. I saw a news item about how the technology behind artificial intelligence is developing toward a far more automated society.
The story predicted that by 2050, the rate of automation aided by artificial intelligence might even result in civil unrest due to a lack of available jobs.
I have mixed feelings about that possibility. People were saying the same thing 50 years ago about salad bars and self-serve gasoline pumps.
I was a kid when those things came about, and I recall that many adults were unhappy about having to exit their cars and pump their own gas.
Today, we complain if the “pay-at-the-pump” apparatus is malfunctioning and we must actually walk into the store to initiate the purchase. More likely, I will get back into my car and move it to a pump with a functioning apparatus — even if it’s in front of a different store.
My very first job title was “bag boy.” In addition to bagging groceries, we bag boys cleaned bathrooms, mopped floors and retrieved shopping carts from the parking lot.
Most of us never actually ran a cash register, which was a more skilled position. It required the ability to engage customers in friendly conversation while also keying in prices without looking at the keys.
Cashiers in those days could spread news faster than CNN. “Have you heard?” I recall a cashier repeating throughout the evening shift on a particularly sad news day. “Elvis is dead.”
The bagger and cashier have been the same person at most stores for quite a number of years now. My mother is right to believe they are being replaced by do-it-yourself technology.
Yet, help wanted signs seem to be everywhere. I read another story about how hotels and restaurants are having a tough time finding workers. Hotel and restaurant work is in my job history, too. I was a dishwasher at the Holiday Inn.
I cleaned bathrooms and mopped floors there as well.
The restaurant manager once yelled at me for lending ashtrays to the porter — another kid from my neighborhood, sent on the ashtray run by the front desk management. Neither of us had been aware that the front desk and the kitchen were sworn enemies.
Ashtrays and porters are both long gone from that place now.
The same manager once told me, “If you can wash dishes, you’ll never go hungry.”
That’s probably the most enduring truth the woman ever shared with me. And since I’m not starving, I can bag my own groceries too.