Across the Pond: I, Robot

In which elevators talk and self checkouts are the bane of my existence.

I remember the first time an English elevator spoke to me. I’d just gotten off the tube at King’s Cross, having made my way over from Paddington, and before that the express train from Heathrow. I had barely slept, and exhaustion was warring with adrenaline as I got closer to the one-and-only, the place I had been building up in my mind for weeks and weeks.

And then the elevator spoke.

“Doors opening. Doors closing. Going up. Doors opening.”

I think I made a surprised noise.

“Yes,” said my mother, “they do that here.”

Hello, Robot

There are any number of wonderful reasons for an elevator to talk, mostly related to accessibility. And it’s not unheard of in the states, just relatively uncommon. Once I got over my initial surprise I quite warmed up to the idea.

Elevators aren’t the only things that like to chat. The tube cars are quite talkative as well — you can find this on newer subway cars in NYC as well, but the MTA has rolled those out quite piece-meal and many of the major lines lack them.

Interestingly, this seems to fit into a larger pattern in which human action is replaced more and more by machines. It’s not the conductor announcing a stop, it’s the train itself. You don’t speak to a teller at the bank, you use one of the (frankly very intimidating) machines which are not ATMs (they have those too — these are more complicated). Everything has a self-checkout — the post office, the grocery store, the library.

This sounds like it should be right up my alley. After all, my best kept secret is that I actually don’t like people. If I can do something at a remove – use the automated postal machine, send an email or text instead of call – I’m much happier.

And yet.

Goodbye, Robot

Story time.

One fine afternoon I was at Sainsbury’s, the supermarket, attempting to purchase some food items. Well, perhaps “food items” is a generous description; I was probably buying peanut butter and/or ramen noodles, because I’m a lazy student and can’t be bothered to cook for myself.

But anyway, buying food.

All the checkout lines (and there weren’t that many open at the time) were fairly long, so I decided to attempt a self-checkout.

Okay. Tap to start. I’m using my own bag. Place my bag in the bagging area. Okay. Scan the things. Put them in the bag. Pop up — it seems you’re using your own bag. Are you using your own bag? YES I’M USING MY OWN BAG. Scan the next thing. Error, please see associate. Someone comes over and puts in a code so the machine starts to work again. I keep going. ERROR. The person comes over again and says something about not putting my bag on the machine but frankly I don’t understand, I put my bag where it told me to, but okay, I take the bag off. Scan the next thing. ERROR. The woman comes back to put the code in. Fine, that was the last thing. I can pay. I say I have a Nectar card. I try to scan it – it’s not acknowledged. Whatever. It’s only three pounds something so I decide to pay in coins. I try to put my pound coin in like three times and it spits it back out every time. The salesperson goes and changes it for a different coin, which the machine accepts. I have been here for nearly ten minutes trying to buy four packs of ramen noodles and a jar of peanut butter. It is embarrassing. I finish paying, take my receipt almost before it’s done printing and RUN THE HELL AWAY.

Needless to say, I no longer use self-checkouts.


3 thoughts on “Across the Pond: I, Robot

  1. We have all kinds of problems with self checkout.

    “Illegal item in bagging area”.

    Take the thing out of the bagging area.

    “Replace item in bagging area”

    Put the thing back.

    “Illegal item in bagging area.”

    This cycle repeats twice before the nice lady comes over and does her magic code thing. The lady had to help pretty much every open self checkout going. I’m not sure who, if anyone, is being helped by these things.


  2. Pingback: Across the Pond: Tradition | The Great Novel Adventure

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