Trading Places with Machines

I was at my retail job the other day, when I was given a new assignment.

The standing assignment was to walk to the end of my checkout line, whenever I had no customers. But even though, that was my job, the system couldn’t tell I was doing it instead of off playing with lemondrop flavored unicorns, so after thirty seconds ‘doing my job’ I would have to walk back to my register and log in for a second or more to tell it I wasn’t off in fairy land. Thereby making the register idle to prove that I wasn’t being idle.

Now what do I care? I’m paid, right? If you want me to count the tiles on the floor for eight hours minus breaks I’ll do it.

An obvious bother was the idea that I could get counseled for not proving to the system I was doing my job when any human being in the area could vouch that I was, plus my own ’empowered’ word. But I learned to overcome that by saying, “Hey, if I know I’m doing my job and your system doesn’t tell you, the problem is your system.”

But it occurred to me, that here I was, in a business where I’m supposed to act friendly and personable, but I’m being jerked back and forth because I’m literally being micromanaged by a machine to do something that has no reason at all except to show productivity by mechanical behavior.

Then I started thinking again about the idea of a uniform. People are not uniform. We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and refreshing scents. And I don’t have any ‘uniform’ for my friends, so by definition a “friendly” employee should be non-uniform. Of course, the uniform helps to facilitate business . . .

. . . in a world where employees turn over so fast that no one has a chance to actually relate to the person serving them.

So, I’m supposed to show up looking like something that came off an assembly line, with about as much variance as an assorted set of lego figures, say a specific number of lines, not take it personally if a customer lies to me or insults me, and manage my behavior according to mechanical whim . . . I kind of sound like a machine, don’t I?

Then, on the other hand. We have machines that we talk to like people. “Hello, Siri.” And they greet us, like they’re people. They get individualization to their exterior and their interior. They are our tool for all the liking and friending and sharing that we do. They keep track of our friends names, faces, birthdays, lives, and every nuance of their day.

So sometimes, I wonder, if we’re trying to make people into machines or machines into people? Or are we just trying to make them the same?

Maybe I’m just too sentimental, but I don’t want a machine that thinks its my friend. And I don’t want human beings who act like machines.

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