The self-checkout at the grocery store was not happy with me. Not happy at all. The robot voice sternly announced, “Unexpected item in bagging area.”
Really? Like what? A baboon skull? An engine block? A rocking chair? Kim Kardashian on tiptoe? Why, no! It was a bag. Into which one puts groceries, this being the grocery store, where groceries go in bags.
Don’t get me wrong — I love self-checkout. It spares a weary clerk from having to paw through my food. But I’ve yet to make it through the self-checkout without requiring a different weary clerk to come over and punch in the magic numbers because the scale couldn’t detect the weight of a single jalapeño.
According to some snarky online story from a site that delights in trumpeting that everything is horrible, the self-checkout lane in grocery stores is very bad, and we should hate it. Also, it’s preparing us for something worse.
Finding fault with self-checkout is like complaining about air travel: “Sure, I flew across the continent in a few hours, but the movie I wanted to watch wasn’t available on the touch-screen display. And the Wi-Fi? Texts took, like, 15 seconds to send. It was positively medieval.”
This is an age of wonders. I beep my items over laser beams and pay by waving my glass Miracle Slab, also known as my phone. If you’d told people in 1965 that someday they would pay for groceries with their phone, they would have been confused: “The cord doesn’t go that far. Even if I got out the kinks.”
But the payment process is the part that the internet writer said would ruin our lives. Why? We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s admit that no method of payment is perfect.
I paid cash for something the other day and felt as if I should I apologize. The clerk had to take out a special pen to see if the $20 bill was genuine. Then he had to open the drawer, make change, and give me two miserable pennies. It’s like someone handing you large versions of the coronavirus.
Besides, what am I supposed to do with them? Put them in rolls, then take the rolls to Washington and throw them at legislators who refuse to abolish the penny, that’s what.
Of course, there have been many ways of paying through history:
Barter: “I will give you this pig for six chickens and the hand of your daughter in marriage.” “Five chickens, three eggs and the foot of my daughter in friendship.” “Deal.”
Coins: A very popular innovation. They had a set value and could be used throughout the realm. They were stamped with the face of the emperor, so you saw the profile of Goiterous Maximus and knew it had the backing of the state.
Paper money: Basically Monopoly money, except we all believe it’s not.
Checks: They were great until you ended up in line behind the woman who not only took forever finding the checkbook in her purse but then entered the transaction in the register and did the subtraction right there as if your ice cream wasn’t melting.
That’s why credit cards were invented. But even though we no longer had to wait for the slowpoke check writer, we had to deal with impatient terminals. “Insert card now!” OK. “Grind, grind, grind ... Remove card now!” What was going to happen to it if we didn’t remove it immediately? None of us has ever had the nerve to find out.
Anyway, now we can pay by waving our phones at the terminal. But it still seems like work. I have to get out my phone? With my hands?
The next step will be easier: We’ll have a chip embedded in us — no doubt the 666 model made by Markodebeast.com — and we’ll just walk out of the store while some superpowered X-ray reads the chip number and grabs the money out of our bank account before the door even has had time to close.
That’s the future the internet writer said we’d hate. Sounds rather nifty to me. But no, you’ll lose your privacy! Amazon will know what you buy!
Except they already know. Sure, it’s possible that someday I’ll commit a murder using a frozen log of ground beef, and they’ll trace the weapon back to my chip, but if that’s the case, I’ve got it coming.
Walk-out shopping will mean an entirely new set of error messages, though. A voice will say something like, “Unexpected baboon skull in bag. Please return to customer assistance.” People will look up, confused: Does that mean there’s such a thing as an expected baboon skull?