We have become a self-serve society.
Gas stations are probably the most visible example of the self-serve world. At one time, gas station employees would fill your tank, while cleaning your windows as well as checking your car’s oil and other fluids.
Full-serve stations also provided work for unskilled labour, and working at a gas station was a lot of people’s entry into the working world.
Gas stations are one example of our self-serve world, and automated teller machines are another. Yes, it’s convenient to be able to get our money outside of banking hours, but the real benefit is for the banks.
We still pay exorbitant fees for the privilege of letting banks hold onto our money, but now we do all the work for them too. If you do need a teller to help you with a transaction, be prepared to wait – there won’t be many working. That is if the branch hasn’t been closed altogether in favour of a couple of standalone ATMs.
Online shopping, of course, is all self-serve. But self-serve checkouts are becoming more common with other retailers, primarily in the food industry. The benefits for a store are obvious enough — fewer checkout clerks means more profits. How this benefits the consumer is a lot less clear. There are even experiments with totally automated stores where no clerks are ever seen.
The problem is people and jobs, or the lack thereof. As we automate more and more things, we lose more entry-level jobs, which are a key factor in the whole employment ecology.
It also breaks the social contract with the consumer. Companies have become so focused on the bottom line they have forgotten that service and participating in the local economy are also part of a good business model.
We give businesses our money, and in return receive goods and services. The unspoken part of the contract is that the business re-invests part of that money in the community in the form of jobs.
Technology has made our lives and our society better in many ways. Self-serve checkouts are not among them.