Let’s Not Get Carried Away With Self-Checkout

Everyone, by now, is familiar with self-checkout. Self-checkout is what happens when you go to a large department store that carries various items, including clothing, furniture and mirrors, and you check yourself out in one of those mirrors.

It seems to me that there’s too much self-checkout going on in the world. I blame technology for this. Technology has promoted our obsession with self-checkout.

About a century ago, people relied only on mirrors for self-checkout. The glass mirrors we use today were invented in 1835. Before that, it was far less common for humans to fall in love with themselves. Sure, primitive mirrors existed for centuries, but people did not spend much time checking themselves out in silver plates and puddles.

When the glass mirror was first invented, you had to go to a special exhibition and wait in a long line to look at yourself in this magical object. If you got carried away and stared at yourself too long, you’d hear yells from behind, such as “Hey, keep the line moving, pretty boy” and “Don’t use up all the magic on yourself! We’ve got faces too.”

It was also the first time that someone asked the question, “Do we really have to stand in line for self-checkout?”

Technology allowed glass mirrors to be mass-produced, and eventually they ended up in every household. This was a game-changer for many people. They could now stare at themselves for as long as they wanted. Nobody would be checking them out while they were checking themselves out.

The invention of the modern mirror was soon followed by the invention of photography. Wealthy people could go to studios and get their images captured for posterity. Studio photography continued to be popular in the 20th century, largely because the pictures turned out well. Professional photographers could not only take photos with superior equipment in perfect lighting, they could make pimples and blackheads magically disappear. Touching up photos to erase blemishes was perfectly acceptable, as long as the photos were used for non-journalistic purposes such as attracting a potential marriage partner. “But he looked so handsome in his photo” was a common thought during arranged marriages.

Eventually cameras became household items and people could take as many pictures of themselves as they wanted. But it wasn’t until the smartphone came along that self-checkout reached its peak. People could now take selfies, thousands of them, and share the very best on social media. They could take pictures of themselves in various settings. “This is me at a Trump rally; this is me breaking into the U.S. Capitol; this is me behind bars.”

Considering the obsession with self-checkout, it didn’t surprise me to see an article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “Self-checkout is a failed experiment.

But when I read the article, it became apparent that the writer was referring to another form of self-checkout, in which stores get customers to serve as employees without paying them and without reducing prices.

Many stores around the world have introduced self-checkout. Some customers were initially excited about it, especially when they saw a large sign that said “Self-Checkout.” But they soon realized that they were expected to do some work.

Thankfully, a number of stores have installed cameras and a small screen at every self-checkout register, hoping to deter theft. This allows customers to look at themselves on the screen while they’re scanning items.

You can’t have self-checkout without a little self-checkout.

Image courtesy of Pin Add/Flickr

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