Thursday, January 04, 2007


Yesterday after picking up a few items in the supermarket and in an attempt to bypass the lengthy lineups, I used the self-bag system. This is the same supermarket that also features bag boys/girls who bag groceries for shoppers. No discount on groceries by the way but that as they say, is a whole other rant. Having never used the automated self-bagging system or service (I use this term very loosely), I looked on a screen for assistance to lead me through it step-by-step.

"Press the start button" a message says. No problem-o there.

"Place an item in the bag" the automated but friendly simulated human voice instructs. Obeying the message a container of orange juice is placed inside while shuffling the bag around to make space in anticipation of packing further items. The "place an item in the bag" message is repeated verbally accompanied by a written message presumably for people who are hard of hearing.

In response the machine is informed of the fact that the item is indeed already in the bag but "the voice" insists otherwise. Meanwhile, there's an ever lengthening line-up waiting impatiently to check out their food items. Embarrasssed, I turned to them while smiling sheepishly, shrugging my shoulders, pointing to the machine and back to me in the way of an explanation. They are not amused.Take out the orange juice to re-start the whole process and there's an audible groan from the line-up.

"Press the start button" the machine repeats. Four simple words but words that have become imprinted on my brain, along with the accompanying six word command, "place an item in the bag." This time the action includes the rapid removal of hands to ensure there is no discernable movement.

One bag is filled but there are still more items to be packed and I remove the now over-flowing bag and move around the carousel with new bags ready to go.

This is a no-no. You cannot and must not remove the bags during the processbecause - well - you just don't! There is no way to fool the machine because IT knows - oh how it knows!

The now dreaded "press the start button" flashes on to the screen accompanied by the ever-present automated monotonal but ever cheerful voice. Shut up, shut up, shut up, I want to scream out but don't want to incur further wrath from the people in the line.

Once again the bag is emptied to re-start the whole process. After several further attempts a cashier whose main function is to help customers especially first-time rookie customers, comes over and does the job, her adept hands moving quickly to fill the waiting plastic bags while twirling them deftly around the carousel. She then smiles and leaves as the customers in line clap.

The "how do you wish to pay?" question replaces the "press the start button" instruction. This required further thought but rather than face the rage of the people behind me, I decided to pay cash and pressed the "cash" button.

"Place the dollar bills here" a new message flashes on the screen, right next to a "place the coins here" image illustrating pennies, dimes, etc. Bills are slipped in a slot followed by sixty-one cents in the coin thingie. The coins clink as the machine is fed however instead of a "thank you very much" message as anticipated, the image of the coin slot and a flashing sixty-one cents flashed on to the screen indicating missing change. Given the state of tension I was experiencing the chance of error was a distinct possibility so I added a cent...and another cent...and still another cent.

At the end I had fed the machine three extra cents. Needless to say I was incensed but had to recourse but to obey the machine's instructions if I wanted to get out of the supermarket and live to relate the story, given the growing state of agitation of the people waiting to use the automated-self-packing-machine-from-hell. In the grand scheme of things three cents isn't a lot but if every customer was charged an extra three cents - you get where I'm going with this.

Walking away with my plastic bags in hand I couldn't help but rant to the people in the line up about how people are being replaced by machines. For some reason or the other, they totally ignored me.

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