Saturday, May 7, 2016

CHECKING OUT


Live Transaction, Greensboro, NC

This Saturday is one of those career gardening days in early May that stirs primal urges to go dig in the dirt. Since I’m the first generation on both sides of my family to be born and raised off the farm, I understand that I still have dirt coursing through my veins. So I dropped in on one of my favorite “candy stores” that sells living gardening plants, shrubs and trees to just browse around and finish my morning coffee I had grabbed in Starbucks’ drive-thru. Naturally, it didn’t take long to fill a shopping basket and head for the checkout counters to be greeted by a friendly young woman who scanned my store card, addressed me by name and thought my selections were priceless. That certainly qualifies as a positive life experience.

I had previously turned into a “service station” to personally fill up my car and then stopped by a local grocery store to pick up and scan some essentials like aluminum foil and lite beer. They now have more self-checkout stations than those that are manned by a breathing human being. I worked at the local neighborhood grocery store as a kid, sacked groceries and actually carried them home with customers that would have walked to the store on a day like today. I used to walk into a bank lobby to complete transactions with a friendly teller who knew my name. Now I use the ATM machine in the drive-thru. I’m old enough to remember the “good old days” at a legitimate service station when an attendant filled up the tank, washed your windshield, checked the oil level and tire air pressure, asked about the family and gave you a free set of glasses after returning with your change for a five dollar bill. That actually does qualify as one of those long gone good old days versus those that are only predicated on nostalgia.

It occurred to me on the drive home that I’ve probably stood in hundreds of checkout lines in my lifetime at this stage of the game. It’s truly one of those mundane chores that all of us have experienced multiple times. Those activities only qualified as positive when the attendant engaged us in small talk during the exchange. If not, you might just as well be using the robotic self-checkout station equipped with a voice recognition and texting response. And we are rapidly getting there in all of our internet transactions and daily chores. We’ve all been created as relational creatures but the relationships are being dehumanized by our automated society in a rather disturbing and increasing manner. We no longer even need to leave the cocoon of home for most of the material things we use these days. And our basic human need of relationship is rapidly checking out on us.

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