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.

1 comment:

bookhabit said...

I have to admit, when I arrived in Washington to discover I got to pump my own gas, I was a very happy camper. Not only can I get gas into my car faster than a gas attendant, I can buy as little gas as I like and the machine doesn't roll its eyes. $5.00? $2.50? $.50? Sure, buy whatever you want. I don't care, I'm a machine.

I agree on the supermarket checkouts. It should be one item only, and produce should NOT be on the list. I don't know about shooting the offender's though. Maybe some community service instead. This way we don't have to shoulder the cost of burying them. Not to mention the potential lawsuits: "A six pack counts as one item! The sixth can just accidentally fell out of its holder."

Great post :)