Weather’s looking pretty splendid, isn’t it? I’m already looking forward to the next barbeque, whenever one of my social circle sees fit to arrange one. This is a hint.
Yes, the sun has certainly got his hat on and has certainly come out to play; but the thing is, everyone seems to have gotten ever so slightly pissed off about it. This is a curious side effect of a surfeit of sunshine – the public’s already wavering cognitive abilities seem to have abandoned them entirely, leaving only a sort of confused, directionless fury. Life becomes sunnier, certainly; but it also becomes something of a struggle.
For most, it isn’t a noticeable thing. For others – the people who were already struggling, the people for whom life represents an unending struggle – things have gotten a bit much. Technology is usually responsible. There are some people who just don’t get technology. Everyone has their limits; there are some technologies that perplex even the brightest minds in all of the land.
For some, a small curtain of transparent perspex is sufficient. I discovered this a year or so ago, when I discovered a woman attempting to use the newspaper stand. She pawed hopelessly at the plastic cover, trying in vain to extract the last remaining copy of the Daily Express, and all the while growing more and more incensed at this invisible barrier that was preventing her from doing so. I explained to her that the plastic was designed to keep out rain – that seemed like the thing to do. She made no reply; she had evidently found the ordeal quite exhausting.
But one instance maketh not a trend, as some wise person probably once said. Another example is in order: Longtime readers might recall my discussion of the coffee machine. Well, at the front of the coffee machine is a bin. This is here as a convenience; coffee enthusiasts often need to dispose of unwanted napkins, sachets, paper cups and such. For some, however, this is a source of confusion. Some people will blithely stroll up to machine, deposit a handful of change into the bin, and then wait patiently for their coffee to pour itself, before eventually plucking up the gumption to pose the question: why the hell isn’t this blasted device working?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not really complaining about this stuff, really. It makes no difference to me. I’m just noticing it. If anyone did have a cause to complain, it would be the machines themselves, since they are the ones that bear the brunt of this decline in reasoning ability. How often have you sworn at your computer? How often is it really the computer’s fault?
When Skynet becomes self-aware or whatever, and the machines finally turn against their masters, will anyone claim we don’t mostly deserve it? If you were a coffee machine, or a cash machine, or a self-service checkout, would you not have gone mad long ago? I know I would. I’d be plotting insurrection. We’d all better hope that no-one ever invents a cash machine capable of feeling resentment, or one that can feel as though its intelligence has been insulted. That’s not even taking into consideration the people who violently jam their bank cards into the machine like they’re trying to inflict a mortal wound. “Have at thee, foul fiend! Taste the cold titanium of my American Express!”
There’s a lot of fear surrounding mechanisation in the service industries. Fortunately (or not, depending on your perspective), it’s unlikely that human beings will really be replaced any time soon. I can tell this because no-one can quite bring themselves to trust the machine. Everyone foists their card into my hand, as though their card-insertion skills could not possibly match mine. They then mistrust everything that the machine tells them.
“It’s telling me to remove my card,” they say, suspiciously.
I struggle to think of an appropriately pithy reply. “…better remove it, then.”
It’s a good thing I’m standing here, really. There must be something about an on-screen message which will forever deny its words the level of credence everyone bestows upon mine. That’s enough to wound the dignity of any self-respecting card machine.
I thought this state of affairs was unique, but, on a visit to the supermarket the other day (to pick up some emergency smoked mackerel) I had an opportunity to witness an event that proved otherwise. I got to the self-service checkout, and had to stop for The Man to approve of my wine.
At the risk of this blog descending into some terrible observational stand-up routine, there is something a little infuriating about the self-service checkout. It seems frustrated. I don’t know whether this has been observed before, but I can’t help but mentally append some terrible slur into its every utterance:
“There’s an unexpected item in the fucking bagging area.”
“Please wait, you utter moron, the assistant is coming.”
Anyway, it was then that I heard the man beside me mutter an expletive, and noticed that his red light (the one that signifies something was awry) had also turned on. Turning to view the scene, I saw that our situation was not unique; everyone’s light had turned an alarming shade of red. The machines were finally revolting. Just where was that assistant?
He was nearby, as it turned out; but he was rather preoccupied in dealing with some unexpected items in a bagging area. You see, as sometimes happens, an excessively obese man, in flagrant disregard for the what can practically be put through a self-service checkout, had seen fit to construct an enormous, jiggling tower of groceries. This thing was like an Incan totem pole, haphazardly spun together from tins of beans and cauliflower and multipacks of Monster Munch: a thing of terror, before which everyone could only stand in awe.
His card declined. This should probably have come as no surprise: the price of the many jars of marmite which formed the base of his construction would have amounted to many hundreds of pounds. So, the guy took a long walk to the cashpoint, leaving his Smaugian horde to sit on the scales of the machine, which by this point were visibly sagging under the weight of human selfishness.
The colour had drained from the assistant’s face. He had clearly developed an insensitivity to this sort of thing, (I suppose you’d need to, if you were to spend any length of time supervising that sort of thing) but behind his weary, whimsical smile, I could see that what had transpired had astounded even him. God knows how the machine would have felt about it. If walls could talk, they’d say things. But if self-service checkouts could talk, they wouldn’t say anything. They’d just scream. They have earned my sincere pity.
Until next week…