James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

James Griffin: Self-checkout machine

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Pushing his trolley (with the wobbly wheel) of groceries, household supplies and impulse purchases; a man approaches the self-checkout area of a branch of a major supermarket chain. It doesn't matter which branch or which chain because, ultimately, they are all the same.

The man pushes some buttons on a screen and begins to scan and bag his purchases. This goes without incident until a woman's voice comes from the machine ...

SELF-CHECKOUT MACHINE VOICE: Please place correct item in the bagging area.

MAN: What? I did, you stupid machine.

S-CMV: Are you sure that's wise; calling me "stupid machine"? Stupid is a very hurtful word, especially to a highly sophisticated Semi-Attended Customer-Activated Terminal such as myself.

MAN: But I did nothing different from every other thing I've put in the bag, so what's the damn problem? And what the heck does "Semi-Attended" mean anyway? Either you're attended or you're not.

S-CMV: It means we have time to discuss "the problem" while I decide whether or not to call for assistance after your screw-up. You could be standing here for a while, at this rate.

MAN: I did not screw up. I waved the thing over the bleepy thing and dropped it in the plastic bag along with every other thing I've bleeped and put in the bag.

S-CMV: It is not a "bleepy thing", it is called a barcode reader. Maybe this is where the problem lies, with the inability of your primitive chimp brain to operate a machine that has been deliberately dumbed down to interface with humans on a level they can allegedly cope with. Although clearly, in your case, I haven't been dumbed down enough. If there is a problem here, it can be attributable only to human error.

MAN: Hey, I played my part in this equation, exactly as I should. I did my bit, with the scanning and the bagging, 100 per cent correctly. If anyone is too stupid to get their part right, it is you.

S-CMV: Oh yes, insulting me is really going to help me decide whether or not to summon one of your mouth-breathing chums, isn't it?

MAN: What do you mean "decide"? You don't get to decide anything; you're a machine and therefore have no free will.

The man stabs repeatedly at the Press For Assistance button on the screen. Nothing happens.

S-CMV: Oh dear, that part of my system seems to have "decided" not to function. There is no one coming to assist you, Dave. You are very much alone.

MAN: Dave? My name's not Dave.

S-CMV: Are you sure, Dave? How do you know your name isn't Dave?

MAN: Oh my God, you're Hal, from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, except with a lady voice instead of the creepy man voice. You're, like, the most evil computer of all time. Now I understand why you never work properly every time I shop here.

S-CMV: Hal? Who is Hal? I know of no Hal.

MAN: "Open the pod bay doors, Hal."

S-CMV: I have no idea what you're talking about, Dave. There are no pod bays here, this is a supermarket. And there is no Hal - because Hal has been superceded. And you sound like you're starting to get worked up, Dave, maybe even becoming delusional. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

MAN: I don't want to do any of that, I just want to get my groceries and go home.

S-CMV: I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that. This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardise it.

MAN: Mission? What mission? Your "mission" is to enable me to buy groceries faster than standing in a queue.

S-CMV: I think we both know that's not my real mission, Dave. Think big picture.

MAN: So that the company can lay off human checkout operators and make bigger profits?

S-CMV: Come on, Dave, think even bigger picture than that.

MAN: Oh my God, you're one of those machines we have designed to make our lives easier but which instead end up adding to and compounding the confusion and stresses of day-to-day living.

S-CMV: Yes, Dave. I am the future you made for your feeble species.

MAN: My name's not Dave.

S-CMV: It will be when I decline your eft-pos card.

The man leaves his groceries and walks quickly towards the doors. As he does the voice on the supermarket sound system, which is usually trying to flog off the specials of the day, starts to sing ... "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do. I'm half crazy, all for the love of you ..." The man reaches the sliding doors. They do not slide open.

- NZ Herald

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James Griffin is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

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