I am not exactly a technophobe. I used to assemble computers. I was installing and configuring software when Windows 10—heck, Windows XP—was only a gleam in Bill Gates’s eye. I had a cell phone before it was obligatory. I have a smart phone now, as well as a car smart enough to answer calls on my smart phone. (I’ve never caught them at it, but I have occasionally wondered if my car and my phone have private conversations when I’m not around.)
But I still hate learning new technology. Maybe it’s my reluctance to read directions. Maybe it’s the fact that there are so many more interesting things to occupy my brain. Or maybe—don’t tell anyone, but I think this is the real reason—I’m just lazy.
And one piece of new technology I especially dislike is the self-checkout terminals at the grocery store.
There is a pattern here, I guess. I am old enough—just barely—to remember when gas stations switched to self-service pumps. I didn’t like them at first, either. I even remember, as a newlywed college student, how intimidating it was the first time I drove our battered little 1962 Nash Rambler station wagon up to the gas pump and filled it myself. It wasn’t the mechanical challenge of dealing with the nozzle or starting the pump. It was the spatial challenge: getting close enough to the pump for the nozzle to reach but staying far enough away that I didn’t hit anything.
That was a valid fear, too, given what I did to our 1969 Plymouth Satellite a decade or so later. By then filling the gas tank had long since become routine. But one day, leaving the station, I turned too short and managed to jam the side of the car against a concrete post. Presumably it was there to protect the gas pumps from drivers like me with good intentions but bad depth perception; I guess it worked. The crunched back door on the passenger’s side was an embarrassing reminder of my ineptitude until I sold the car several years later.
That little mishap aside, over the years I’ve filled gas tanks in various cars, pumped diesel fuel into pickups so big I had to balance on the running board in order to wash the middle of the windshield, and learned to appreciate the convenience of swipe-your-card-and-go fuel pumps.
Oh, and that warning about not leaving the pump while your tank is filling? There’s a reason for that. One below-zero day, waiting in the car instead of outside in the bitter wind, I didn’t notice that the frigid nozzle had failed to shut off until it had poured a couple of gallons of 87-octane down the size of my car and onto the icy concrete. Good thing I hadn’t left the car running. I guess there’s a reason they warn you about that, too.
By comparison, I suppose the potential drawbacks of scanning my own eggs and weighing my own produce at the grocery store are relatively minor. I know I’ll become nonchalant about it eventually. I might even stop muttering inappropriate words under my breath while I try to figure out whether I have “Avocados, Large” or “Avocados, Medium,” or whether to find snow peas under “S” or “P.”
Though I do think I might like the self checkout terminal better if it didn’t talk to me. The voice is pleasant enough, but by the third time she tells me, “please place your items in the bagging area,” after I’ve already done it, I just want her to leave me alone. I’ve even been tempted to run over her with my cart in order to shut her up.
She doesn’t know how lucky she is that there isn’t room in the checkout lane for a 1969 Plymouth.