Tue, 10 Apr, 2018Danielle McCarthy

Why self-serve checkouts make me so angry

Why self-serve checkouts make me so angry

The tiny piece of meat that wedges itself in your teeth is only ever a tiny piece of the delicious steak. But until you get it shifted, there is no other aspect of that steak you can possibly think about. If, like me, you're too lazy to walk six steps to fetch floss or a toothpick, it can be bothering you for hours.

Small things can become disproportionately important.

The self-service supermarket checkout shouldn't really warrant more than your slightest attention,  and yet when it won't do the simple damn thing you want it to do, it can fill you with great frustration and furious anger. At least, that's how it feels for people like me who are too lazy to walk six steps to fetch floss or a toothpick.

When the rage comes on, I take myself off to Twitter where all my angry friends are waiting, ready to shout at anybody and anything. This week I typed: "Thank you for shopping. Also thank you for not taking to the goddam self-service checkout with a f.....g mallet."

They all knew exactly what I meant.

"That thing is an instrument of psychological torture banned by the Geneva Convention," said my friend Dovil (not her real name).

"I try my hardest to avoid them," said Moana, "but I keep the guy with a key in a job. He always has to uncrank the Lady Machine ... at least three times when I'm there."

Everyone had a story to tell about the machine that's supposed to detect your bag, get the weight right, and smoothly process everything, but doesn't.

They wrote: "The stupid woman inside the machine never raises her voice, just repeats herself, repeatedly. Hate. Them. And. Her. Hate her big time."

And: "I have removed my bloody bag!" 

And: "I overheard a man yelling at it once. Each time it spoke he said 'Alright!!!!' It was great. Very Basil Fawlty."

Becs said: "I get terrible performance anxiety and feel like other shoppers are judging me."

John asked: "You bought a newspaper? Please tell me you didn't buy a newspaper."

I never have at the self-service, but right away I can see the problem with a flimsy object and scales that can't weigh things very well. Feel free to insert your own joke here about columnists who are less weighty then they're supposed to be.

But we are also human beings with inquiring minds, so talk soon turned to larger things, like: Are the robots coming for our jobs?

Friends wrote: "I have nothing to do with self-service checkouts" and: "Use real people and keep them in a job" and: "Supermarkets suck enough money without me doing their work for free."

Max, though, wanted to know why we still have human checkout operators at all, making them slave away at an unnecessary job that could be automated.

Phil wrote: "We have reached the point where work is redundant. All the wages are accumulating in the bank accounts of the absurdly rich. Existential crisis for humanity."

There is a growing drum beat to this as the bank branches close and robots mow the grass by the motorway. I hear the water lapping at the doorstep. Who is replaceable. Are you? Am I? Obviously the easiest columnists to automate will be the ones who string together posts from their Facebook friends.

What will happen? The best person to listen to might be Thomas Frey. He got the attention of a lot of important people when he said that by 2030 more than 2 billion jobs would disappear. He has had to spend every day since then explaining that although he meant it, he also believes it will be possible to replace those jobs with other ones. 

If you want to fill yourself with hope, the best thing you can possibly do is read the list of specific jobs and industries Frey suggests will come into existence. It's a new and fascinating world he describes, with vast possibilities. 

But his point is clear: those opportunities won't just come to us, we will have to seek them out. And I suspect my friend Phil may be right too. We may need to get there before the private equity guys and the bankers. They tend not to get distracted by the small stuff, and they have voracious carnivorous appetites.

What are your thoughts? Do you use the self-serve checkout?

Written by David Slack. Republished with permission of