Why I Don’t Use Self-Checkouts

photoStores are pretty packed right now. In the last few days before the holidays, you can’t go anywhere without bumping into people you know, bumping into people you don’t know, finding the things you need gone from the shelves, and perhaps most symbolically, waiting in lines.

But wait. You don’t have to do that anymore, I’ve been told. You can use a self-checkout and get out of the store and quicker and be on your merry way. No thanks.

I don’t remember when these things came around. I didn’t really take notice of them until about two years ago and I didn’t use one at all until last year. Many of my friends were crazy about them. They enjoyed scanning and bagging their items themselves. They enjoyed not waiting in long lines behind someone with a cart of food for the entire next week when all you have is a movie from the $5 bin you couldn’t pass by.

Personally, I can’t stand the things. Part of that may be because I am somewhat technologically challenged in some regards. The first time I used a self-checkout, I was buying one item and had no idea what I was doing. There was no employee standing nearby at all and I actually ended up calling someone on my phone to figure out to stop the contraption from beeping at me. A few times after that, I went to stores with friends and had them help me each time something “isn’t in bagging area.”

But that’s not the main reason I don’t like them. I’m sure many people have noticed going into big chain stores just how many checkout lines some have. Some are numbered 1-12 or even 16 I’ve seen. But I never understood one thing. Maybe two or three of them ever had a cashier actually at them. Now that self-checkout lines are popping up in more places, there are even less cashiers.

Self-checkout lines are killing jobs. It isn’t that hard to see.

According to the Food Marketing Institute, 6 percent of U.S. supermarkets offered self-checkout lanes in 1999, and by 2007, 95 percent had them. British retail giant Tesco has all self-checkout stations at the chain’s 156 U.S. outlets. And why not? You don’t have to pay machines.

But just because they’re there doesn’t mean they’re instant job killers. It also depends on how many people actually use them. Last year, self-checkout machines accounted for between 12 and 30 percent of sales, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While that may may seem low, it will most likely grow in the future. Automation is tipping the scale on economics. This isn’t the first time this has happened. 2001: A Space Odyssey made it sound like technology replacing human efforts was a long way off. But technology has already made jobs like telephone switchboard operators, typewriter manufacturers and even bowling pin setters obsolete.

What’s the difference between those and self-checkouts? Necessity—the mother of invention herself. Self-checkout lines don’t make you safer. They don’t make you healthier. They don’t even set your bowling pins for you. If the argument is that they’re quicker—mainly for people with few items—that argument won’t stand very long.

The more people use them, the more items people will purchase using them. The more items purchased at them means longer lines at them. After a while, they won’t be any faster than if human hands took care of it as they have all this time. But the jobs would still be gone.

That equation may already be gaining ground in many places. As fast as some stores are installing these machines, many are taking them out, citing customer dissatisfaction.

I find no problem putting my items on a counter, giving my cash to a human being, and maybe listening to how that human being just moved into their new apartment. I’ll take it over automation any day.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88

History Doesn’t “Just Happen”

A Man Is Trying To Sell His Car.

An American is trying to sell his car to recover the money lost in the Stock Exchange crash. New York, October 1929.

It’s one of the biggest misconceptions that we’ve ever been taught in school. “What started the Great Depression?”

And if you ask a lot of adults these days, I’m sure a good number would still give you the same answer that we were all told at one point: “Black Monday. October 29, 1929, the stock market crash.”

But that’s just one of many. We’re also told that the Civil War started with the attack on Fort Sumter. And for some reason, we’re told that World War I—a conflict that killed 10 million people and changed the world forever—started with one man with a pistol. How preposterous is that?

In the back of our minds, we realize that isn’t the case. Fires don’t just start burning. You need kindling. Cakes don’t bake themselves. You need to ingredients. It’s the same with every single major event in history.

Economics are a complex topic. And yet it is always one of the leading topics when it comes to elections. The reason for that is very simple—because it affects everybody. That’s another thing we were taught about the Great Depression. That’s something that we were taught correctly.

Perhaps the reason we associate the stock market crash with the start of the crisis is because of what came just before it—a decade of a booming economy, big interests in music and fashion and an overall cultural revolution. The “Roaring Twenties” were like night and day compared to the 1930s. However, it is not that life was terrific and everyone was happy and then all of a sudden one day the banks closed. Behind all of the sunshine of the 1920s were looming clouds in the distance, gathering into a storm.

Bank deposits were uninsured at this time and thus as banks later failed, people simply lost their savings. Banks that didn’t collapse were hesitant to create new loans. Overproduction of food as a result of World War I hurt small farms, causing prices to drop. After the crash, people spent less money on products. The crash of 1929 was indeed significant and was the “spark” that helped ignite the Depression, but the seeds of the Depression itself go back ten years and more. Yet a lot of people blamed then President Herbert Hoover, who was inaugurated just six months before the crash.

So why do we blame former President George W. Bush for the Great Recession in our lifetime? A 2013 Gallup Poll found that 69 percent—more than two-thirds— said they blamed Bush “a great deal” or “a moderate amount” for the nation’s economic problems. Our situation is honestly just on a smaller scale of the 1930s—a recessive decade in the late 2000s after a booming period in the 1990s, thanks to the .com emergence and favorable oil prices.

Like 1929, everything wasn’t great until that fateful October day in 2008 when the U.S. government had to bail out some of the nation’s biggest banks. The subprime mortgage crisis, international trade imbalances, and many argue the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a law passed in 1933 that limited financial securities with commercial banks, which the Clinton administration repealed in the 1990s, were the seeds to our current economic woes. And many of the seeds of these seeds go back much further than the Bush years.

There is still a lot to learn as well. The Great Recession—nor the Depression for that matter—are completely understood or explained. As I said, economics are a complex topic. And when economic disasters arise, their origins cannot be drawn back to one person, one cause, or one significant event. History has a lot of blame to go around.

Luke Parsnow is a copy editor and page designer at The Post-Star, a Pulitzer-Prize winning daily publication located in Glens Falls, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at https://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88