People, do not be fooled. This is not progress.
I know that most of you think that – just because time marches forward and things change – it means that things are constantly and tirelessly improving, but I have some alarming and terrible news for you: I can tell you that this is by no means the case.
There are 10 million things I could talk about as far as the way the changes they are making in society and labeling as “improvements” are really making things worse, not better – but nowhere is this more evident than at the checkout line in the grocery store or drug store.
Look at the everyday process we go through now, versus 25 years ago. In case you weren’t born then or don’t remember what it was like before the turn of the century, here’s the process in 1992 …
(1) Take your selected items to the checkout counter.
(2) Swipe your credit card.
(3) Sign your name.
(4) Walk out with your new belongings.
OK, now that was a very fine process, one that worked extremely well by all accounts. It took about three seconds in all and in no way did it need any alterations or “improvements” whatsoever.
But could the grocery store people and the government just leave it alone? Oh no. No way. Absolutely not.
Now, in 2017, the process we have in no way resembles that near-perfect exchange. Just like everything from cars to coffeemakers, the checkout process has gotten so complicated that it’s nearly impossible to navigate through, and the whole once-simple endeavor has become a minefield wrapped in an obstacle course smothered in tribulations.
So now, keeping that process from a quarter of a century ago in mind, let’s go through the “improved” process in 2017 …
(1) Take your selected items to the checkout counter.
(2) Step up to the counter and get asked, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” Everyone always asks this question now. I have no idea why they do and I never know what to say. The truth seems inappropriate: “Well, actually, I was hoping to find a smokin’ hot available 30-year-old here buying a book on how to meet older men, but unfortunately I couldn’t find that.”
So the truth doesn’t work here.
And if you say, “No, I wanted some clear butterfly Band-Aids but I could only find the tan kind,” then what does the cashier do? Do they stop everything and put the line on hold and then get someone to find the clear Band-Aids for you while all the poor people in line behind you stand there and wait? I have no idea.
So, usually, I just say, “Yes.” (I do know that one time when they asked me if I’d found everything I was looking for I said “No,” just to see what would happen, and the cashier just kind of looked at me and shrugged, like, Oh, OK. Well, too bad for you. Whatever.
(3) The loyalty card step. This is when the cashier asks you, “Can I please scan your [VIC, MVP, Extra Value, Healthy Rewards, etc.] card?”
They are asking for one of the 10,000 cards that are on your key ring from every store you’ve ever shopped at going back 20 years.
The loyalty card is a way for you to get a slight discount on a few items and, in exchange, the store gets to commoditize every minute personal detail of your life including your alcohol consumption, pie purchase habits and everything else by selling that information to the health insurance cartel and by alerting every baby bonnet company in the country that you just bought a pregnancy test.
These days every person on the planet has a loyalty card for the store you’re at except for one lone human being: The person in line in front of you.
That person in front of you, as you well know, has no concept whatsoever of this card, so when the cashier asks them for theirs, the two engage in a 10-minute conversation about loyalty cards while you wait.
At this point, the customer in line in front of you is told that he or she might be able to use their phone number because at some point in history someone in their household may have gotten a loyalty card at that store. Then there’s a 10-minute process in which he or she gives the cashier every phone number they’ve ever used since the beginning of time.
When none of those numbers work, the cashier and the customer then have another five-minute discussion after which the cashier gives the customer the loyalty card application to fill it out while you wait.
However, unlike the person in front of you, you do have a loyalty card so you give it to the cashier and move on to the next step.
(4) The cashier bait and switch. The clerk or cashier starts to ring up your purchases and, in the middle of doing so, she gets this bothered look in her eyes and calls out over the microphone for another cashier. She then explains to you that she needs to get a cashier who’s over 18 because she’s not legally old enough to sell alcohol to customers.
At this point, I always roll my eyes at what a stickler for the rules she’s being, and I say, “Listen, you’ve already rung up the condoms, the Kool Menthols, a Narcan kit and a Maxim magazine – I think you can ring up a bottle of merlot. “
You know, 25 years ago there was absolutely no problem whatsoever with a 14-year old cashier selling you grain alcohol by the case, but now, in the namby-pamby year of 2017, we have to have an “adult” ring up the alcohol purchase.
(5) The card swipe step. You swipe your card. You wait a few minutes. Nothing happens. After waiting a while longer, the cashier informs you that you have a “chip card” and therefore you need to insert it on the bottom of the machine, not swipe the card as you just did.
(6) The insert card step. So, now, you take your chip card and insert it in the chip card reader. You wait a few minutes. Nothing happens. After a few more minutes, the clerk tells you that you’ve inserted the wrong end of the card.
(7) The credit card shuffle. You turn your card around to insert the end that has the chip. After an hour, you reach to take it out but a panicked clerk stops you and tells you to wait until it says to remove the card, which he or she informs you will be in about another 30 minutes.
(8) You are frightened to death by the End of the World Alarm. When the machine is finally done it will start blaring a horrible loud alarm clock-buzzing sound like the one from the end of Alien signaling that the spaceship is about to explode. When you hear that sound, unbelievably, that means payment was accepted!
Why do they have the universal fail sound – that’s used everywhere from game shows to computers – to indicate something has gone right?! Why would you do that? It is like the exact opposite of even remotely competent design. You should get a nice pleasant chime or something after the transaction went through. But every time I hear this sound, I always freeze waiting for store security to rush out shouting, “Swarm! Swarm!” and wrestle me to the ground.
(9) Sign the electronic pad with the electric pen that never works. I heard there’s a signature pad in a store in Colfax that works but I’ve never seen a working one in person.
(10) The mystery phase. At this point there’s always something else. They try to get you to reconsider the extended warranty on your bag of Cheetos. Or they ask for your phone number, zip code or address. Or it could be something else. One time I had a cashier at Walgreens try to talk me into investing into – I swear on a stack of Bibles that this is true – a horny goat weed supplement pyramid scheme.
(11) The receipt. In the old days, they just gave you a receipt. Now they ask you if you want one. A lot of people don’t take them because (A) They are coated with a deadly substance (B) Not printing that piece of paper will save the planet (C) Taking the receipt is a clear admission that you don’t trust the store or the clerk as far as you can throw.
This is a hard choice. If you take it you die of poisoning and if you don’t then they tack on hundreds of dollars for purchases you never made.
If you do decide to take the receipt, then you get to the next step …
(12) The survey. They tell you there’s a survey with your receipt for you to fill out on the website. You have 30 minutes to get to your computer and complete the five-hour survey about your experience at the store and, if you do, then you have a 1 in 5 million chance to win a coupon for 15 percent off your next purchase.
The cashier always says, “Be sure to fill it out! My name is Chet! I wrote my name on there so you can remember.”
I’m always like, “Listen, Chet, here’s how this is going to go: I pay you for this stuff, you let me take it out of the store and that’s where our relationship ends.”
And that’s it: Ta da! You’re done.
Elapsed time of the checkout 25 years ago: three seconds.
In 2017: 18 hours, 23 minutes.
That’s progress for you.