I am not a trog. I like technology, and use it every day. But I don’t automatically concede that all technology is good. Shopping online might be fun and convenient, and there are people who absolutely love getting packages delivered at home; they adore Amazon. But online shopping is killing local retailers, and here in Baltimore we have a big and terrible example of that — Stebbins-Anderson going out of business after 152 years. Read the quotes from the owners in this story in The Sun, and you’ll understand, if you don’t already, that all the shopping we do with a click of the mouse or a touch of a screen is not only killing local retail but further isolating people. However quaint or inconvenient they may seem, stores are where people interact with each other, or at least see each other.
A Sun reader wrote to me this week about why she goes to the supermarket and avoids using the self-checkout machines.
“I prefer human contact when I buy food,” wrote Judy Mercier. “My preference isn’t limited to food but food comes to us in a roundabout way from the Earth. It’s life-giving and health-enhancing and I rebel against all attempts to reduce the process to a mere transaction. Maybe this is why farmer’s markets and CSAs are so popular.”
Judy was responding to a note in my Sunday column in which I declared this Saturday, Nov. 16, Rage Against The Machine Day at supermarkets everywhere. On that day, shoppers are asked to boycott the self-checkout terminals and take their groceries to checkout lines served by our fellow human beings, forcing the stores to staff them properly. Semi-attended customer-activated terminals (or SACATs) are probably here to stay. But we, the customers, have some say in this society’s destiny. I say resist machines that replace humans — on Nov. 16 completely, and in the future when you have, say, 10 items or more. Let’s show some respect for the men and women who make their livings where we buy our groceries.
I am no trog. I like technology. But that it exists does not mean it’s good — for the individual or for society. We live in an age when holistic thinking and living is necessary for everyone. Climate change, the pressure on natural resources created by a growing population — these large challenges mean that, here on the ground, in the places where we live and work, we have to be extra conscious of the choices we make: The things we buy and consume, how far we travel, how we get there, what we throw away, what we save, the impact on others of the decisions we make.
I decide to keep fellow humans employed by resisting the self-checkout. I take the bus a few times a week instead of driving everywhere. I decide to keep a local business thriving by patronizing it, by walking in and looking around, and hanging out a little bit. I like knowing the woman who runs the hardware store, or the guy who sells me fishing tackle, or the owner of a restaurant.
I think it’s time to stop accepting everything as inevitable and slow the clock a bit on all this technology — or at least think more about how we use it and the impact of the decisions we make. Humans have the power to discern what’s good and what’s bad, what’s useful and what’s unnecessary, and we have to consider the things we value most — and risk losing — as time and technology marches on.