Self-checkout, once the future of the grocery store experience, is being curtailed. Target says 10 items, Cub says 15. Well, thank you for making this easy, because now I know exactly how many things I'll buy. Now it's a game.

It's not 10 items, really. It's 10 beeps. In order to qualify as a single item, there must be enclosure or enjoinment. You can buy 137 potatoes, and it will be one item if they're in a bag.

This is obvious. Otherwise you couldn't go to self-checkout with a single box of rice, because it contains 40,000 grains. Try it sometime: Ask the person ahead of you in line, "Do you mind if I cut in front? I only have 40,000 items."

Wal-Mart will let you auto-check if you belong to their members-only club, which has a fee to join. It's devilishly absurd. Yes, you can do all the work yourself, but you'll have to pay extra.

You'd think the member benefits would mean a special aisle with a red carpet, a tuxedoed clerk, a cart with wheels that don't shimmy back and forth like the head of a parole violator scanning for cops. Perhaps there's an extra-secret self-checkout member tier where they provide a valet who takes your credit card, spritzes it with Evian water and cleans it with a silk cloth to ensure there's no chip malfunction.

"I went to college with him," I said to the clerk the other day when my card didn't work. "Chip Malfunction. Red-headed guy. Wonder what happened to him." She didn't laugh, but that's OK. I'm sure the clerks get a daily parade of duffers and rattle-mouths eager to chat.

I love to chat up the clerks, but self-checkout is good for society because it spares them my insufferable loquaciousness. "Hey, how's your day going," says the clerk, which actually means, "I have recognized your presence with an impersonal utterance, and require nothing more than a monosyllabic rejoinder."

But really, why not get into it? How's my day going, you ask. Well, that's a fraught and complex question. On the surface, emotionally and logistically, fine. But there's also the matter of how my day intersects with everyone else's. How we mesh and jostle. How every moment shows human nature in its most elemental yet revelatory sense, really.

Ever notice that while driving through the parking lot, trying to find a spot, you wish the people walking to their cars would get out of the way? And how the moment you leave your car and walk to the store, you're indifferent to cars, because, "Hey, I'm walkin' here!" It's a shift between binary states of selfishness we enter without noticing.

"Do you want a rubber band around the egg carton?" the clerk asks. "If you would. Eggs are more fragile now, I read on the internet, because a flu wiped out some chickens, and they're relying on older hens who produce brittle shells."

You could almost say we get more intellectually brittle as we age and wish to be nestled in a carton where our beliefs are safe and protected. I don't know where the rubber band fits in this analogy, though.

One of the reasons for the decline of self-checkout is thievery. People employ schemes I do not wish to relate here, lest this paper fall into the wrong hands. I'm sure there's some way this can be defeated with lots of cameras, facial recognition, Interpol databases and tying your identity to your purchase history, bank account, credit score, blood type and such.

But I'd rather not have them do all that stuff. I'd rather they keep self-checkout and make it smarter. Introduce AI conversations with various options: "For meaningless weather chit-chat, press 1. For Heartfelt questions about the kids, press 2. For Deep unanswerable philosophical issues, press 3.1427 3."

A robotic voice could chat with us: "Hello, and welcome to HyCubznbyer Grocery. Can we truly know (beep) something without experiencing it? (Beep) The difficulty is making objective conclusions (beep) through our subjective perceptions. It depends on what is being 'known.' Pain? Sunlight? The number 2? UNEXPECTED ASSERTION IN BAGGING AREA!"

Maybe I'll just Instacart everything and have an AI chatbot talk to the delivery drone through the video doorbell. That's probably where this is all heading anyway. • 612-673-7858 • On X: @Lileks •