To be honest, up until today I always considered the self-checkout machine to be a brilliant step forward. As someone who has been a cashier (and then spent the next 7 years making sure she never had to be one again), I can happily say that it’s not a job for the weak hearted. Spending hours upon hours scanning customer’s goods, dealing with them muttering on the phone, complaining about prices or yelling at you because the supervisor needed to complete a sale isn’t there, because every other till is backed up and it’s going to take a few minutes. On top of which, you have other customers who only want to buy a few items complaining and groaning about having to hang behind a veritable trolley marathon.
So yes, when the self-checkout machines appeared at my local supermarkets, I did a little jig of joy. Without a car my shopping was always little under a basket, and I often bemoaned the fate of waiting behind everyone else doing their weekly shop. The self checkout machines keep me from having to spend another 15 minutes waiting in line behind every snappy businessman and frazzled parent, and get my still-slightly-claustrophic-when-surrounded-by-people-self out the door just that little bit quicker. Can’t even say I think they’re a threat to minimum wage jobs, considering they need 2-3 people constantly supervising them to approve ‘own bags’ and okay liquor.
However, my colleague told me a story today, which made my approval stop in its tracks. I have now realised the unexpected and dangerous secret of the self-checkout machine. The night before, my co-worker was out jogging, and along the way she remembered she had to buy stamps. Popping into the shop, she decided to buy a chocolate bar as well. But when she got closer to the till, she stopped in her tracks. She knew the person on the till. And there she was in her jogging clothes about to buy a chocolate bar. Said item was quickly shuffled back onto the shelf, and she left with just her stamps.
I’d never seen someone so pleased in maintaining someone’s opinion over something so minor. She was so proud of herself for resisting the chocolate urge. Then she said the golden line.
“It’s a good thing there wasn’t a self-checkout, or I’d have bought it there instead.”
This harmless little comment stopped me in my tracks, and I thought back to all the times I’ve used the self-checkout machines (there are many such times in the past month alone). Sometimes they really did have too long a queue and I’d go to a human being, and some stores just don’t have them, and with this in mind, I spotted a dangerous trend.
Every time I use a machine for my shopping, I always add sugar. Chocolate, baked goods, cookies, cakes, random-other-generic-calorie-monster-I-know-I-shouldn’t-be-eating-but-am-anyway. Even just tossing a snickers in the basket while I wait. I don’t do this in the normal queues. I’ll actually put stuff back rather than watch all the fat roll across the scanner.
There’s just something about having another person go through every single thing you’re planning to eat in the near future that makes you think twice about having that little guilty pleasure. Even though it’s mostly in your head, even though you know they’ve had dozens of people through their till before you, there’s a nagging, unflinching notion that the employee wearing a nametag and a slightly dazed expression is judging you for your choices. You are so desperate for this strangers approval (or at the very least, lack of disapproval) that you’ll suppress your urges for another day.
The self-checkout machine has no such problems. It exists to be an enabler. Certainly there are some things people are glad they don’t have to buy from another person (puberty brings much embarrassment and averted eyes sometimes), but that’s not my issue. I don’t think I’ve ever bought something from the proper tills in my local supermarket – I always go to the self-checkout. What am I usually in there to buy? Chocolate and/or muffins. Literally go in there for just that. It’s bad enough I’m in there so often the security guard knows me on sight – I couldn’t describe the horror of having the other employees remember my face and regular binging habits.
But maybe I should. If I want to stop eating junk food, I have to stop using the guilt-free shopping option. Society is there to help support you – even if that support comes in the form of your subconscious portraying itself on the face of a minimum wage slave. From now on, I am to go to real people to buy things. Or name the local self-checkout machines in order to give them personality, and therefore really mess up my subconscious and peer group balance…