I remember the good old days. Weren’t things great then? Back when shopping was an experience rather than a torturous necessity. Much like any cash-strapped teenager embarking upon the adult world, I too was a retail assistant for a while. Oh, I could reminisce about those weekends I spent with my hands covered in newspaper print and my mind on the latest greeting card offer. I could tell you of the laughs, the thrills, and particularly the blank expression of a customer when asked ‘would you like any half price chocolate with that?’ The point is, it wasn’t the minimum wage that went into my account each month that inspired me to wake up for work on a Sunday. It was human contact. Very often, I’d see the same customers each week (admittedly, some of them a lot more than I’d like.) Yes, it’s sad to admit, but it was the brief chats about newspaper headlines and new twenty pound notes that really made the experience for me and the customer.
This brings me to self-service machines. Those God-awful things. In theory, they sound quite fantastic. Machines that speak to you and don’t judge you on the multi-pack of chocolate digestives you have just bought for dinner? Fantastic. In practice, however, the opposite is true. These are machines that bleep at each sense of movement, bellowing ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’ in a way that makes you feel unnecessarily guilty. They are also highly repetitive. Not a week goes by when I don’t find myself becoming increasingly frustrated with a machine that bleats ‘Enter cash or card’ like a broken record, whilst simultaneously choosing to reject the cash or card I have entered.
I recently found myself in the Brighton branch of Boots making a purchase using the dreaded machines. As I placed the last of my items down, the machine started up: ‘Please put THIS item in the bagging area. ‘I waggled my finger towards the machine. ‘THIS is in the bagging area!’ I roared, picking up the remainder of my purchases. ‘And THIS is in the bagging area. And THIS is in the bagging area!’ I dropped the objects one by one into a plastic carrier, all the while getting angrier. ‘I’ll tell you what; I’ll even put them in the bag in the bagging area!’ There was a sudden silence. A small voice came from behind me: ‘er, sometimes the items are quite light so they don’t register too well. Sorry about that.’ I turned around, smiled politely at her. ‘That’s fine. Thank you very much for your help.’ Ahh, human contact. Just what I wanted.