Automation = exploitation

Be warned – this is a bit of a moanfest – but I’m annoyed!

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a Luddite, especially when it comes to things like supermarkets and banks. I’d much rather deal with a human being when I’m carrying out any transactions, and I think that if lots of us had eschewed online banking then the banks wouldn’t have seized the chance to close most of their branches, throwing their employees onto the dole queue and leaving people in more rural areas high and dry.

When the supermarkets started installing self-service tills I decided that I was never going to use them. I’m not absolutely ancient but I do just remember the days when we used to go to the shops with our basket and string bags and actually be served by a human being who gathered all your items from the shelves themselves and rang everything up on the till. I couldn’t help thinking back to those days when I went to an ASDA supermarket on Monday, it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the store is a really big one and it was full of shoppers.

I didn’t intend to buy an awful lot, I just wanted some fruit so I took a hand-basket and when I made my way to the check-outs I was shocked to discover that although they have around 23 check-outs only two of them had actual human beings working at them, the rest were all empty, the alternative was for me to serve myself and use an automated check-out. The two ‘womanned’ check-outs were queued up with people who had large trollies full of food, so I just had to abandon my basket and leave. My fruitless supermarket visit was just a waste of time.

I was/am more than a wee bit annoyed, when you consider the massive profits that the supermarkets make it seems ridiculous that they are now employing as few people as they can get away with employing. There used to be a time when employers felt an obligation to the community that supplied them with customers – and employees, but now the only important thing is profit. Costs have been pared back to the bone and the people who provide the businesses with money – the customers – are expected to do the work that was once done by paid employees. For some people a short chat with a shop worker is the only point of contact they have with another human, modern life with family scattered far and wide can be a lonely place, especially for the elderly.

There’s no doubt that in many ways society is going backwards. I’m quite cheesed off about it all. I would probably be regarded as a bit of a red by some people but I really think that if companies are making enormous profits – as supermarkets and banks do – then they shouldn’t be allowed to lay workers off and replace them with machines which exploit their customers for labour.

14 thoughts on “Automation = exploitation

  1. I agree entirely.

    Rubbish-collection in my town has changed, now with a massive fancy truck equipped to pick up and empty our new bins.
    I wonder what happened to the men who drove the old truck and physically loaded the bin-bags and recycling, and manually sorted some of it as they went.

    “Shadow work” = the kind of thing that used to be done by workers and we are now often expected to do ourselves: checking in at the airport, printing invoices that have been emailed to us (I never do this!), pumping petrol at the service-station (I ask the nice folks at my local service-station to do this for me), making travel and hotel reservations, etc.
    I never use the supermarket self-scan checkout, or the hole-in-the wall cash machines – I enjoy the brief chat I have with the nice people at the till or bank-counter.

    My local butcher has meat that is far nicer than the supermarket’s, and again, there’s personal interaction with the supplier when I buy there.
    I suppose the supermarket butchery isn’t exactly automated, but one of the young fellows who worked in it was heard to ask his boss “shall I make some more steak?”…

    • Valerie,
      I suspect those bin chaps are on the dole now although people are now employed to sort through all the rubbish for recycling purposes.
      You are lucky that the service-station people pump petrol for you. It’s been so long since that was done here – I had forgotten about it!
      I remember that there always used to be a queue of people out in the street waiting to use the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ outside a bank in Kirkcaldy. I used to sail past them and get served immediately by the staff. Sadly that bank has now been closed because they didn’t have enough foot-fall. There isn’t one butcher shop there either, you have no option but to buy from a supermarket. LOL (as they say) at least it sounds like that young lad actually sliced the meat!

  2. I hope you complained to the supermarket manager. It is no use only moaning to us since we can do nothing except perhaps sympathise. I manage to get through self service checkouts and my wife likes the scan and go ones. If it beats long queues then I’m all for it.

    • H,
      I think nowadays a supermarket manager has very little power to do anything except what they are told to do by their bosses. I intend to email ASDAs HQ and let them know they’re missing out on customers. The employment situation is so bad in Fife that I think any move towards self-service is a bad thing for the community. Using a self scan gadget could mean a much longer visit to the supermarket as they might choose you to check your shopping and do the whole thing over again. Apparently that is part of the terms and conditions of using them, but I would hate that to happen to me as I would feel they were doubting my honesty.

  3. I agree. The Whole Foods I shop at now makes you use one of their machines to slice your own bread! My neighbor refuses to do it and tells them that she doesn’t work there and isn’t a baker. It’s everywhere, though. You can never get a real person to solve problems, some web sites don’t even list telephone contact numbers. So frustrating!

    • Joan,
      I don’t think they trust people here to use those machines! They do in Holland though. It drives me nuts when I have to push multiple buttons on my phone before I actually get through to a real person to speak to – and if it turns out they’re in India it just annoys me even more as they often don’t have a clue about life in Britain. One woman in India insisted I should give her my gas meter reading. The meter was outside in the garden and it was pitch black and chucking it down with rain!

  4. You make some really good points. I don’t mind the self-checkouts so very much. I see them as a kind of express lane and use them when I only have a couple items and don’t want to wait in the longer lines. There are only two places I go to that have them and I don’t go to either very often. As for banks, I can’t remember the last time I was in one. I do most of my transactions at the ATM machine outside the bank which I think was pushing tellers out long before online banking made an appearance.

    • Stefanie,
      Yes that’s why so many banks have closed down here, even in large towns and it means that small businesses have nowhere they can bank their takings at the end of the day. It makes it very difficult if you want to do anything other than take money out of the ‘hole in the wall’. The main libraries in Fife have self-service machines for booking in and out, but it means that the assistants hang around hoping someone will actually bring them a book to stamp out.

      • I’ve been pondering this issue for a long time. I do use self-service checkouts for smaller amounts, if the queue is shorter than the staffed-line. There’s quite a lot of fraud happening in these self-service check-outs though. I hear people talking about it. We customers are paying for this. I’d rather pay for good service (and people having jobs), I agree.

        However, when it comes to banks, I went self-service – ATMs and online – as soon as I could. I never want to go back to those days when, as a young working woman, I’d have to get in the car at lunchtime to drive to the local shopping centre to deposit my pay and/or withdraw cash. I worked 5-days a week, 8.30am to 5pm, and banks were open 5 days a week 10am to 3pm (with late opening to 5pm on Fridays). They once opened Saturday mornings but that had gone by the time I started work. Anyhow, this was very inconvenient, plus it wasted my time, wasted petrol/resources, and I had the stress of having to find a carpark in the shopping centre. (My workplace was not located in a shopping centre.) With ATMs to get my cash out anytime and my salary paid straight to the bank rather than as cash in an envelope, I was a much happier girl. These days, although I’m retired, I resent having to go to the bank (as secretary of an organisation) to deposit cheques from older people who still pay membership fees by cheque. So tedious!

        Life is changing. I’d like to see new jobs happening rather than fighting back automation which is a lost cause. I’d like to see help desks staffed by local people (not Indian call centres), I’d like to see less automation of help services, I’d like to see more jobs in alternative energies, and so on.

        • Whispering Gums,

          I’m sure that a lot of thieving does go on via the automated checkouts in supermarkets and as you say we all pay for it. I well remember the days when banks seemed hardly to be open at all, that was a nightmare for me too. ATMs have been a boon but I’d still rather dodge the long queue at them and go inside to the bank and be served immediately. The amount of fraud through online banking is enormous, and that’s something else we’re all paying for, but I doubt if they’ll keep reimbursing people for long. I believe that they’ve stopped doing that if you make a transaction through your phone that turns out to be hacked. Banks have very poor online security because the bad guys are always a jump ahead. Yes I agree with you, I think that alternative energies have the potential to employ a lot of people.

  5. Odd one out, here, I suppose. It’s not all about profit, although the cost of human labor has gotten unsustainable in some areas. It’s more about efficiency and, in many cases, effectiveness. I’d much rather do something myself and get it right than spend 5 times as much time explaining to someone else how to do the job. I tried to arrange a package pickup online. The option I required was not available that way, so I was forced to call their customer service number. When I tried to explain that “ground service” was not available to me, as I was shipping from Hawaii to Florida. We’re an island. she transferred me to the international division. It took me 15 minutes more to explain to him that my options were Air or Sea. Because…ISLAND. He did allow as how I was in fact in the USA. Had they offered those two options online I would have gleefully done it myself. No perfect world out there, but I’ll take my mechanical garbage truck over having humans permanently injuring themselves hoisting nasty refuse to make my life easier.

    • Carolyn,
      We’ve had the automated bin lorries for years but I think it was actually easier when they just chucked a plastic bin bag into the back of the lorry as they were lightweight and could just be dropped in. Now we have just two men doing the job and they run all day long as they have to go so fast to keep up with their schedule. People living on islands here have to pay quite a lot more for deliveries. Often the people on the end of a phoneline are somewhat lacking!

  6. Silicon Valley is brutally short sighted about these matters. The self-driving truck is supposed to be the next big thing–and truck driving is the biggest job category in this country. These “innovators” don’t seem to care about the fate of people displaced by their actions at all. I lie awake at night thinking about these things…

    • Niranjana,
      Those self-driving lorries are a worry, especially as there was a nasty crash involving one during trials. I’m told that they’ll need people to build all the machinery involved in the automation, but that isn’t going to be the same people who have been displaced and thrown on the scrap heap. Sleep well – it’ll all end up okay – so THEY say.

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