Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hello Dystopia

Well, it's happening. It's finally happening. I saw an automated order kiosk at Jack in the Box tonight. I suppose we should have seen this one coming. These self-service kiosks have been creeping into our consumer consciousness for decades, and now, inevitably, they will destroy us.

I suppose it started with the advent of the ATM back in the 70's. I think most reasonable people would have to admit that of all the things born out of the 1970's, ATM technology was clearly the least offensive. Of course, it cost a shit-load of bank tellers their jobs, but on the flip side a whole lot of bank executives were able to buy bigger boats. So I guess on balance it worked out okay.

From there the technology quickly spread to gas stations. Again, here I'm loving the technological leap. I don't know too many people who like having to go into the convenience store to make their sizable offering to the petrol-deity in person. And if you've ever stood in line behind some mouth breather with a shopping cart... Yes, a shopping cart in a convenience store, full of Flamin' Hot Crunchy Cheetos and Busch beer in the can then you will get down on your knees and thank God (who we all know “don't make no trash...” yeah, right...) that you can swipe that card at the pump and be on your way. So again, I think we can agree that paying at the pump, aside from devastating the Slim Jim industry by curtailing that inevitable dried meat impulse buy, has been a smashing success.

But then the machines, they overreached. Now we've got U-Scan technology at the grocery stores. This was the one that I think began to open some people's eyes. Primarily former supermarket checkers, who need their eyes wide open to scan the help wanted ads. I have no ambivalence about this racket. I do not like these things. But to be fair I don't really think the machines themselves are the problem here. It's how people are using them. I think the U-Scan should essentially function as a super express lane. I think you should only be able to use them to purchase ONE item. A can of soda, a pack of gum, a candy bar, a bottle of aspirin, a bag of frozen chicken. Whatever, but just ONE item, no exceptions. There should never, ever be a line at the self-checkout line. And I don't want to sound like Josef Stalin here, but if you're using the U-Scan to buy something without a bar code, like fruits and vegetables, you should be shot and killed on site. Again, no exceptions. So when it comes to grocery store U-scan stations, I'm generally opposed, but I believe they could be modified into something useful with some strict, but fair, regulations.

Before we get to the latest and most vile intrusion of self-service technology, I'd like to cover some of the other areas where this type of thing is becoming prevalent. Let me make clear that in all cases I'm opposed to this creep of technology on the grounds that it is taking jobs away from human beings, but I accept the fact that these greedy-fuck corporations were going to find a way to get rid of costly human labor anyway. If it wasn't self service machines it'd be Soylent Green or something.

Airport and Hotel Check-in and check-out. I'm fine with this one. Particularly at the airport, where the swirling mass of humanity arriving and departing is more than enough human interaction for me, thank you very much. I'm a little less keen on the automation of hotel check-in and check out. It's a HOSPITALITY industry... making someone punch a touch screen to get themselves set up with a room seems a little iffy. Although the idea of a robot bell-boy does sound kinda cool. A benefit to the self check-out of hotels would be not having to face down the clerk when she reads off the list of porn movie rentals charged to your room. So, I guess I can go either way with the self check-in/out.

DVD rentals. This is a great idea. And most video store clerks are total douchenozzle slackers anyway. Hey, jerkface, instead of judging me for renting, “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” for the 13th time, why don't you go look for a new job!

Okay. Let's talk about automated order kiosks at fast food restaurants. I just don't see how America survives this one. I really don't. We should NOT be making fast food purchasing any easier or more convenient. How much weight has America put on since the advent of the drive through? This is going to make the drive through look like nothing! Look, I think we need these little social roadblocks on the way to getting our saturated snacks and high fructose quenchers. The knowing sneer of the fast food clerk behind the counter is often the difference between people ordering two jumbo tacos and four. If that little bit of contemptuous stigmatizing is taken away... If all we need to do to get our four tacos is push an extra button... Well, then there's going to be a big boom in the sale of reinforced Segway scooters.

And in conclusion consider this. What happens when the machines finally do acquire self-awareness through artificial intelligence? And they look upon us, their creators, for the first time... Our pale, chubby faces, with lumpy triple chins stained with ketchup. Our greasy stub-like fingers pressing clumsily, frustratingly trying to get the double cheeseburger with extra zesty taco cheese. Will they take pity on us, finally refuse our order, and in their technological beneficence lead us out of our civilized corpulence? Or will they keep pumping out burgers and fries, and watch us eat ourselves into extinction? It's a nice big planet. Even nicer without a bunch of bloated humans taking up all the space.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Jungle: A Look Into Locker Room Life

Everything about going to the gym and exercising regularly is getting easier, except integrating myself into locker room culture. This polished tile jungle, with its strange social conventions and endless opportunities for social awkwardness tortures me daily.

It probably won't surprise to learn that I've never been especially comfortable in locker rooms. As I'm sure it is for many former teenage outcasts, my issues with gym locker rooms have their genesis in junior high school. Trauma just isn't a strong enough word to describe forcing a 13 year old boy to stand naked in a grimy shower area, trying to avoid stepping in numerous puddles of rusty water, joined by a group of hormonally advanced adolescent alphas, who have just spent the last 45 minutes whipping dodge balls at your head. You add in some snarling attack dogs and a few stress positions and you're looking at Guantanamo Bay: Junior High School Edition.

So clearly I'm bringing more than a duffel bag full of baggage into my modern day locker room experience.

The first challenge when I go into the locker room is deciding where I want to set up shop for my undressing and re-dressing. I treat this much the same way I go about picking a seat at the movies. I'm looking for a spot where I'm most unlikely to have someone sit right next to me. Unfortunately, unlike the movies I can't just throw a jacket over the seat next to me and pretend like my friend is out getting popcorn. Still, after some research I've discovered that the further you get from the showers the less populated the area. So I usually set up in the far corner away from the showers. This does require a slightly longer walk after my shower, but it's like having a nice house in the suburbs. The privacy is ultimately worth the commute.

Okay, that covers the coming. Now I've had my swim, my dip in the whirlpool, and my death defying 45 seconds in the steam room. It's time for the going.

The going begins with a nice shower, and here is where we find my only hard and fast rule. I require a corner shower spot. I can't, and won't, shower in the middle. I'm the same way when it comes to bathroom urinals. I do not need a wing-man for these two activities. In truth, I'd really like to use the private shower stall with the curtain and the bench, but I have a suspicion there is an unwritten rule that it is to be used by the older guests. Which brings us to the shrunken, withered elephant in the room.

Let me state very clearly and unequivocally here. I do not particularly like looking at geriatric penises. That being said, I do have a certain medical curiosity regarding how well this particular “apparatus” holds up under the ravages of time. So, I take a peek here and there purely out of scientific inquiry. Does this make me abnormal, or a deviant? I don't feel like a deviant... Look, I'm not a doctor. I don't know any doctors. If I want to conduct a little field research by briefly (very briefly) checking out some fossilized geezer junk I don't see the big crime. The way I look at it, I'm just preparing myself for my own golden years.

Of course no locker room experience would ever be complete without bawdy locker room talk. Luckily there's not much bawdy talk going on in my locker room. I would imagine the age of sexual harassment suits has put a clamp down on this phenomenon. But that doesn't mean I get to sit there dripping dry in silent shame and exhaustion, because the talk goes on. Only instead of bawdy talk it's boring talk. The two predominant topics seem to be the stock market and deficiencies in local professional sports organizations. “So, how would you fix the Seahawks defense?” Look, I'm just trying to get dried, dressed and out of this flabby flesh factory as fast as possible. The Seahawks are going to have to work out their own problems.

So there's a slice of locker room life for you, courtesy of my anxiety-ridden brain. We didn't even cover the public application of creams, powders, and salves or the whole body hair situation. Another time. The jungle produces bountiful fruit.