Don’t Look Up

OF ALL THE PET PEEVES this modern life offers, one of the most soul-sucking is checking out at the grocery store.

I’m specifically talking about the debit-card machine. Time was, you could fill the two-to-three-minute transaction with friendly banter; ask after the checker’s health and/or welfare; comment on how busy the day is; even chat about the house music. It doesn’t matter what — it’s a friendly benefit for both customer and checker. When you’re working retail, these little conversations help pass the time and break up the daily monotony.

Instead, the customer’s attention is all but completely dominated by the workings of the debit-card reader. You slide or insert the card (more than once if it’s no longer pristine), enter your customer code number (to take advantage of the store’s loyalty specials), decide whether or not to contribute to a featured charity, enter your PIN, then stare at the screen to see if the card is accepted. All of this keeps your head down and attention focused elsewhere than the living, breathing human being on the other side of the counter. It’s dehumanizing and sad.

With cash, on the other hand, your attention can be on the clerk and you’re free to make conversation. It’s worth a pre-shopping trip to the ATM in order to treat a fellow person like a person. True, it’s more convenient to use a card, but what are we losing in the name of convenience and efficiency? What sort of world do we want to occupy? As George Costanza would say, “We’re living in a society!” Keep this in mind the next time you need to stop in for a gallon of milk or a dozen eggs.

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