Was just at Costco this morning doing my part to help kill off the last few American Main Street businesses when I did something I've never done before: peeled away from the long lines at the checkout counters to use one of the self-checkout counters. Normally, I shy away from them. They look complicated. They look like it would be easy to make a mistake while trying to get them to work, creating a big do-over hassle that just wouldn't be worth it. Also, since shoppers get no discount for using them, I figure that I'm needlessly subsidizing the store at my own expense by foregoing the assistance of a live wage-earner.
But today I had only a few items and a bit of time on my hands, so I thought 'What the hell?' The moment I arrived at my station, in front of the ominous scanner-machine with its HAL Computer-like internal blue electric eye, a guy in a Costco uniform rushed up to help me. This puzzled me some. What kind of savings was the store achieving by using both an expensive machine and an expensive, benefits-wanting human being? Then I realized that, of course, this doubled-up situation was only temporary. At some point in the future (a point already graphed out by Costco), most -- or enough -- customers will have so thoroughly mastered self-checkout that calls for human backup will be rare. At which point the helper guy (and the other one hovering in back of him for the other self-service aisle) would be reassigned or let go. Probably let go. As would a number of the live cashiers. Duh.
That wasn't the shocking part, though -- Costco's pursuit of mechanized efficiency. The shocking part was how weirdly cheerful, how manically chipper, the doomed helper guy was about rendering himself obsolete. He grinned and bounced and offered me aid as though it was he, not management, who was going to save money when the robots shoved him aside. He actually acted like he had a stake in his own redundancy and wanted to hasten it.
It's the labor equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome and it's everywhere. In fact, by blogging for free about the subject rather than writing this for a paying magazine, I'm proving that I suffer from it, too.
(Please send in your own examples of this phenomenon)