Yesterday, I blogged on what I felt was a killer invention. Today, I decided that, in the spirit of things, I should blog on a terrible invention. You know, maintain some sort of balance to my posts. Today's invention qualifies as the naive terms I pointed out yesterday: it is a machine. Actually, this machine has existed for a long time, this is really more of an expansion on that. So I'll leave it to you to decide if it counts as an invention. Forget it. I'll contradict myself and refer to it as one of the most useless ideas of all time. And now, without further ado, here it is:

SELF CHECK-OUT LANES

Before I elaborate too much on why these things bother me, I feel I should point out at least a few positives. It's never bad to be self-sufficient. It's kind of nice to just do exactly what you need to do and then leave the store. There's usually very little line, if at all (because so few people use them), so you can get yourself checked out right away. The money-taking machine works perfectly. I've never had a problem paying, as long as it's cash or credit. I'm guessing a check would be a serious challenge. Okay, that's enough.

The first thing I think of when I see these things is a terrifying image of the future, where the profession of cashiering (yes, it can be a career, I've met quite a few career cashiers at the local grocery) is replaced by the do-it-yourself craze. Of course, that was my impression when they first started appearing in stores. I have not seen any evidence, nor any indication, that this is or will be the case. The reasons lie in the following:

1. The machines have a multitude of problems. They just don't seem to work like they should. Every time I've tried to use them, I find that I can't get the scanner to scan what it should. After working in retail, I now know that even cashiers sometimes find this a challenge. But with self-scanners, it's even harder as the scanner is in the counter, and can't be moved around to help the laser. It's the same equipment the cashier uses, but the cashiers are seasoned professionals. Customers lack the general know-how to make these machines work properly. It could be just me, but judging by the amount of people I've watched struggle, I doubt it.

2. I'm a people person. I'm friendly, and enjoy small talk with people I don't know (read: cashiers). Plus, as a paying customer, I feel that I'm entitled to be served. If I went in and picked up everything myself, and checked myself out, I think I shouldn't have to pay as much as I do, considering that I did most of the work (save stocking the shelves). It's nice to let someone else do the work, especially after a long day, when I don't feel I have the mental capacity to actually operate any unusual machinery.

3. Almost any time you check yourself out at the self-checkout, you're bound to run into some sort of machine error (commonly caused by you, the customer, and not the machine), and have to get help from an employee anyway. This happens to me every time I've ever checked myself out, and so I figure why bother, I'll just let someone else take care of everything for me. It saves me the trouble, it saves others from getting annoyed by me, and it usually doesn't take too long.

4. If you want to buy alcohol, you're carded. And you can't swipe a card or anything. You have to have an employee approve the transaction. This invariably takes longer, and like #3 can lead to frustrations aplenty for both customer and employee. Again, it's easier to simply have someone else do all the work for you. It saves everyone the trouble, not to mention the headache.

5. Items such as fruits and vegetables, which have to be weighed, virtually guarantee necessary staff intervention. You have to make sure it's the right fruit or vegetable, at the right price, and make sure the store approves of it. This is arguably the most daunting task, as the store employee jumps in during the middle of your checkout process, and then most likely will be confused, and chances are you'll have to start the whole checkout process over from the beginning, only this time with supervision. See? You may as well just have someone else check you out. It makes everyone happier in the long run.

This whole self-checkout thing is much more trouble than it's worth. Simpler is better. Although, if you're stuck in line and need entertainment, it certainly has its advantages. You just might have a funny story to share later.