Barnhart Media
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thank you jesus for self-service checkout

2019-05-01 self-checkout.jpg

As you may know, depression and related anxieties have made a mess of my life, especially in the past five years. One direct symptom of this is that dealing with strangers is stressful. Extremely stressful. Much of my life is shaped around not dealing people and especially people I don’t know.

I am so grateful, therefore, for the self-checkout option at grocery stores.

If I’m in a checkout line and having to face a human being, all my thoughts and energy are turned in that direction. I start psyching myself up to be friendly, happy, nice. I look to see what kind of visible mood the checker is displaying; god help me if they are unsmiling or, just as bad, smiling like this is the very last shift because they won the Megabucks last night.

I turn off whatever I’m listening to and remove the earbuds; if I’m going to be forced to interact with people, I’m at least going to be polite about it.

I get my debit card ready, from wherever I’ve stashed my wallet.

I prepare myself for the battle.

I’m not at war with the checker, of course; they’re just a minimum-wage worker trying to get through their shift with a modicum of dignity intact and enough energy to take care of whatever else awaits them in their life after work. I’ve done this job; I feel their pain.

My enemy is my own mind, as much as I hate to state it that way. My anxiety is churning through me, and this is no goddamn fun.

(Not to mention that when I bicycle, I still have to pack my bags myself. Very few store employers have the slightest idea how to pack panniers. So I still end up doing most of the work myself.)

Almost all of this disappears when I use self-checkout. I keep listening to whatever I’m listening to. I scan quickly, and then pack my bags efficiently. Sometimes I have to interact with a staffer – there are always people working these lanes, regardless of what people try to imply – to buy beer or wine, but that’s generally quick and doesn’t really trigger anything unless I have to stand and wait while someone who has no clue what they are doing uses the self-checkout and forces the staffer to do most of the work themselves anyway omg why do we allow these people to walk freely in the world?!!!!

Oh yes, the self-checkout does require employees. At least one and often two or more, especially at rush hour. Meanwhile, the high-stress checkout lanes are open at the same levels I recall before self-checkout became a thing. The majority of shoppers do not want to do their own checking and bagging (those who love to self-bag shop Winco, of course). There may be ten people at the self-checkout, but there will be far more at the other lanes.

And let’s understand what the alternative to self-checkout would be. It won’t be more staffed checkout; it will be full-on, employee-free automated checkout. That is being tested at numerous supermarkets, and that will cost jobs. But it’s not self-checkout that led to that; self-checkout still employees humans to assist the small number of us who prefer to use those lanes for whatever reason.

(And as someone who has worked in retail a lot, there are a shit-ton of customers I wish would have been able to use those in the past so I wouldn’t have had to deal with their issues. A lot of shoppers act like Grade AA assholes.)

So please, stop this “boycott self-checkout” nonsense. It’s high-mindedness disguising a lack of understanding, not to mention pretending not to see the employees working right there and all the busy lines at the staffed checkout. I love self-checkout and use it whenever available. You want a real problem at stores?

Find someone working in the aisles when you can’t find what you’re looking for. You’ll start to believe every staff member has suddenly got raptured.

T.A. Barnhart