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human check out staff

I took them for granted until the machines came. We all did. For years we had lined up and stood before them as they scanned and beeped and offered us cashback. Their names were written on badges, their lives happened somewhere else, without strip lights or temperature control.

And they tolerated us with kindness, these check-out assistants. They tolerated our endless plastic; our whining children; our tedious patter, our body odour. Some knew instinctively when to double-bag. They were good humoured, these people, despite poor wages and lumbar region pain.

And now the check-out assistant is under threat. Their livelihood (and our sanity) is under threat from the rise of the machine. Automated check-out stations now invite us to put the item in the bag then take the last item out of the bag. When we take the last item out of the bag, the machine invites us to put the last item back in the bag. If you get it wrong twice, a flashing light activates an obedience chip in the head of a nearby human resource. This person is the guardian of a special key which, at the machine’s bidding, allows access to the Dogma Override Function (typically, a panel on the touch-screen that says “Ignore”).

And the machines have started growing in confidence. They now ask you if you have brought your own bag. Some of them offer cashback. Last week I heard one give cheek to a woman.

In the queue, we muttered outrage. Muttered only – in case another machine heard us. We braved eye contact with human staff and we all shared the same thoughts: aren’t the supermarkets making enough money? Can we have humans instead of machines, please? We don’t mind gadgets and technologies, but we don’t want to buy biscuits from a Dalek.


wreckered news satire