The old saying goes: "You can always tell a Harvard man -- but you can't tell him very much".
Today's Boston Globe offers further proof of this aphorism in the form of undergraduate Dusty Farned's ignorant rant against automation.
It also gives me the honor of posting paci.blog's official First Fisking.
Checkout line blues
By Dusty D. Farned
July 27, 2005
FROM GROCERY stores to home improvement warehouses, the tedious, boring, and dreadful checkout process is getting better. Now you can check yourself out! You may even save some money on that magazine you did not really need or on the candy bar your toddler begged and begged for until you could not stand it any longer.
Yet, is saving two minutes and perhaps $2 in the self-checkout line worth the jobs of your friends and family and maybe even yourself?
Yes, as long as I am not fool enough to waste it on a copy of the Boston Globe, which obviously is having trouble getting quality writers for its op-ed page. Come to think of it, maybe this is the Globe's solution to avoid having to pay a real salary and benefits to hire another Ellen Goodman or Derrick Z. Jackson to pen undergraduate-quality screeds when, for a lot less, they can have the genuine, er, article.
Every generation has protested technological development taking their jobs, and every generation has failed to stop it. Still, it is so disconcerting to see this generation not even cry foul. Are we so tech-friendly that we have lost sight of our real friends?
Actually, because we are tech friendly, we can choose options in life that give us more time with our friends. (Unless the moron in front of us in the self-service lane is checking out produce and taking forever to look up each item instead of keying in the damn Price Look Up codes that are stuck on each and every fruit or vegetable FOR THAT VERY PURPOSE.)
We know where management is. Watching joyously from the locked booth.
I was wondering where the maniacal laughter was coming from today at the Stop & Shop.
But cashiers and bag-handlers, where are you? Your current jobs are at stake. Can't you see it is already happening? The ''inefficient" lanes may still be there, but only two out of 10 are ever open.
Grocery workers of the world unite! Go on strike how ‘bout it? Or convince management to raise prices to hire more of you. I’m sure that will keep your customers – you know, the ones who buy the food which pays the bills which funds the payroll … you get the idea – loyal.
Sure, eventually these jobs will cease to exist. But do you realize that despite the cotton picker's invention in 1850, it wasn't until nearly 1950 that an entire cotton crop was harvested by machine. This is in part because of kinks in the invention but as much because of the stubbornness of Southerners. Certainly their jobs were more demanding than ours; still, the labor force refused to give them up. Why? Employment is security, unemployment is hell, and 90 degrees working beats 90 degrees in the shade of the unemployment line any day.
God bless those stubborn Southerners! Do you realize that it wasn’t until nearly 1866 that people actually GOT PAID to pick cotton in Dixie? Do you think that maybe the automation on which postwar industry was founded, which created loads of opportunities for Southern blacks to make a better living doing something besides agriculture (oh, around 1950!), had something to do with that?
Prolonging progress is a tradition we should sometimes keep. In a time of high unemployment, widespread employment of illegal immigrants, offshore call centers, overwhelming import loads made by child workers and under harsh conditions, every American job should be preserved from corporate greed. Most employees pack their bags at night and leave from another town. But no matter what town you are in now, the most basic of jobs, checkout jobs, are being cut before your eyes. Just as management manages to take care of its own, so should we protect our fellow workers.
Well Mr. Smarty Pants, what are you doing about it? I take it you are majoring in Retail Clerkship at Crimson Community College in a show of solidarity?
Local and state governments should tax additionally when self-checkout lines are used for revenue to support job training and small business loans. This will also slow the process as customers refuse to pay extra. Customers, who care to care, should refuse to use these lines beginning now. Employees, remembering jobs equal equality, should do what is in their united bargaining power to prevent the machines from working and let it be known to everyone, including fellow employees and every customer, what they represent -- no less than less jobs.
Aha! There’s a creative solution. Tax them! Why only at the state and local level? Why not let the feds get their piece, too?
Customers, who care to care, should refuse to use these lines beginning now.
Grammarians who care to care should refuse to hire Harvard grads who do not care to punctuate properly.
Employees, remembering jobs equal equality, should do what is in their united bargaining power to prevent the machines from working and let it be known to everyone, including fellow employees and every customer, what they represent -- no less than less jobs.
I understand Mr. Farned’s need to create disincentives to such abhorrent behavior, but perhaps he could find a more creative and effective way to gum up the works. The wheels of fiscal policy grind much too slowly for any self-respecting Luddite. Legislation is for wussies!
How about taking a more “Think Globally, Act Locally” approach and get a crowd of like-minded nostalgia buffs to engage in direct citizen action? Go down to the local supermarket with a fist full of singles, stock up on produce, and use the self-checkout lane (see above bete noir). Just remember to limit your order to ten (10) items or less and don’t be unlucky enough to be in line in front of me.
Management knows no one plans to work checkout and bagging jobs forever, so it is unlikely much uproar will occur. They're right, these aren't dream jobs, largely because they have refused to make them so. But for most people, at some point in life, any job is a dream come true.
Yes, it’s called the first step on the ladder, entry-level, dude. Such jobs are always subject to replacement by machine. Perhaps YOUR ideal grocery store can have TWO employees at each checkout station: one to scan in the price and the other to do the arithmetic manually.
Sure, it isn't like utility meter readers, higher grossing workers, are being replaced with automated ways of doing their jobs -- wait, that, too, is happening. My gas meter is read from the street and instead of multiple employees and one week of work, it takes one person one day in a truck to record the whole town. Efficient for the company, yes, but my utility prices have not gone down.
That’s because the rates are regulated, you dope. These companies also have expensive benefits to pay out not only to their existing employees but their retirees, too.
Hell, why even have gas mains? We could probably have more jobs for drivers and clerks if the gas companies were required (or, better yet, incentivized by state and local taxes) to make periodic truck deliveries.
Prices for your groceries and home improvement materials will also continue to grow. In fact, the only change to come is the line at the store will get shorter, and not because it is self-checkout. The line will shorten because someone, a lot of someones, perhaps you or me or her or him, can now not afford to put dinner on the table or to patch the leak in the roof because a lot of jobs were getting axed while we rushed by to save a little time.
Just as the economy has collapsed because a) most grocery stores no longer do delivery because all of their customers have cars, b) most lumber yards no longer do much retail business, and c) most Harvard students no longer hire others to type (or proofread) their essays.
Put me down for “None of the Above” – self service, of course.