Thyme and motion

Supermarket check-outs are a great place to observe human behaviour. The many and various ways in which people deal with the relatively simple process of buying your groceries are fascinating.

There’s a great Bill Bryson rant where about ladies in the queue in front of him who are delaying his purchase as they go leisurely about the process, engaging the checkout person in idle chatter. And then, as he points out at the end, appear to be completely startled that someone should actually ask them for money, as if this has never happened to them before, and are set off on another lengthy process of scrabbling around for their purse and then laboriously counting out their pennies. And all the while Bryson is reaching ever greater heights of agitation as he waits to buy his sandwich and rush to get his train.

But technology has come to the rescue, right? Now we can do our own checkout, avoid getting stuck behind someone doing a whole week’s shopping for a family of ten, and whizz through.

However, what do we see people doing? We see them scanning their purchases and putting them in the bagging area. Of course, they have brought their own bags because they want to save the planet. Only they haven’t actually put their bags in the baggage area, even though the machine has explicitly told them to do this!!! “Have you put your bags in the bagging area?” it asks, and they tap the screen to say yes. Well, yes, no, they’re easily confused, aren’t they?

So now, when they have scanned all their goods, which are all piled up higgeldy-piggledy in the bagging area (apart for the Cantaloupe melon that they are now embracing as it had rolled off and they had to chase it across the checkout area to get it back), they then have to open the bags up in their trolley (yes, I know, a trolley in the self-checkout area – let’s not even go there), or balance them on their knee, in order to  put their purchases into them.

Not for them the simple efficiency of scanning their items and putting them directly in their bag. That would be far too quick and easy! Much better to hop about on one leg, juggling produce and trying to flip it into a flimsy bag, like some particularly naff party game variant of basketball, whilst incurring the unspoken wrath of those behind them. I’m surprised the waves of passive-aggressive tutting don’t knock them over.

Never underestimate the ability of people to sabotage any system, to invent new and unnecessary steps and generally jam things up in ways you can’t even imagine.

Aren’t human beings wonderful?


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