Overlooked in the early-October haze of Wall Street occupations, presidential debates, a global economic recession and the debut of Simon Cowell's overly botoxed face on "The X Factor," was the most-depressing news of them all: Some grocery stores are considering forgoing self-checkout lanes.
According to an Associated Press article, the Food Marketing Institute found only 16 percent of supermarket transactions in 2010 were done at self-checkout lanes in stores that provided the option.
Who are the 84 percent not using self-checkout lanes?
OK, I imagine a good chunk of those are people who, uh, let's just say they were born back when the only computer you owned was a calculator, and it was the size of a whole desk. So I can see why you might want to use a cashier when faced with both operating a laser machine that reads prices and lifting groceries from the cart to that tricky conveyor belt thing. Fine.
But what about the rest of us? Isn't this the 21st century? Haven't we worked really hard to NOT associate with one another?
What is Facebook if not a transparent attempt to appear as if we care about our friends, when in reality we're just saying, "Please tell my computer what you are doing today, instead of bothering me with an actual face-to-face visit"?
Cellphones, email, MP3 players, Skype, blogs, DVD players, TiVos, 3-D -- sure, all of these things are awesome, but their real power comes in shielding us from old-fashioned, one-on-one human contact. We're literally inventing stuff every day to keep us from making eye contact with one another. Why would you want to venture outside when you can turn on your crystal-clear HDTV and see the outside in dazzling color?
And when we have to go outside -- when nature or health or social contracts force us to venture away from the protective womb of our dingy, isolated, 2.0 confines -- the last thing we want to do is go to a grocery store, wait in line ... and interact with a cashier.
Last week, I bought a sweater at a popular chain store, and the 20-something dude at the register said -- in a condescending tone that you normally reserve for either the really, really young or the really, really old -- "Did you pick all of these out yourself?"
What does that even mean? How do you recover from that? I'm pretty sure he was insulting me, but he picked the right phrase that landed somewhere between sarcasm and irony.
I don't like cashiers judging my purchases. Ever. I don't want some waify teen saying, "Oooh, someone has a sweet tooth," any more than I want a grandmother going, "Oooh, someone has a drinking problem." (The former has happened, the latter hasn't ... yet.)
I don't want to wait while you squeeze in 15 items in the line clearly marked "10 and below." I don't want to waste my time while you and the checkout girl update each other on what you've been doing since birth up to that very second. I don't want to deal with your kids screaming, your cellphones going off, you holding up the line while you argue whether the 33 cent coupon actually scanned or your general confusion about how to use a debit card.
According to the AP article, "Overall, people reported being much more satisfied with their supermarket experience when they used traditional, cashier-staffed lanes."
If that's true, I've never felt less human than I do right now.
I want to do my shopping with my MP3-player headphones on, as to block out all human voices; keep my head down while I shop, better to avoid seeing someone I know; then head to my good friend the computer, who will allow me to self-checkout and leave without any interaction, whatsoever.
I am fast, I don't make small talk with myself, I don't spread germs to me and I never comment on my own purchases. I am the perfect grocery store employee.
My only bad experience in self-checkout lanes is with, naturally, the humans who use them. If your grocery cart is so full of stuff you need a spotter just to navigate through the aisle, don't use the line. If the change function on a soft drink machine confuses you, don't use the line. If your ringing-up pace is somewhere between "snail" and "corpse," don't use the line. If you are shopping at Walmart -- and, if you are, chances are you answered "yes" to all of the previous three -- don't use the line.
But if you are none of the above, I invite you to join the 16 percent of us who are embracing the convenience of not embracing actual people. And if you don't want to join -- I am OK with that, too. Really, I just want to get out as quickly as possible. I don't want to get involved.