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The self-checkout and a shame-free shopping experience

Posted Dec 13 2010 8:00am

Self-checkout lane

Last week I had a mad craving for cookies. After fighting it for hours, I decided to just give in instead of obsessing about it. So I drove to the grocery store at ten o’clock at night, grabbed a box of Lofthouse cookies (with pink icing and sprinkles) and headed to the self-checkout lane. This is when it occurred to me that although the self-checkout lane has saved me hours of time I would have spent in longer, slower-moving lines, it’s also been bad for my waistline.

Before the self-checkout, a cashier had to scan all your items for you. I would always imagine the cashier was judging my purchases, silently snarking at my choices. It’s more likely that the cashier didn’t care how many bottles of soda I was purchasing, but was more fixated on the wall clock and how many more minutes were left in their shift. Still, the possibility that they were judging me always made me slightly uncomfortable.

The self-checkout machine does not care how many minutes there are left in its shift because it doesn’t have one. It does not have self-consciousness, let alone the ability to judge my purchases. The worst thing it does to me is refuse to scan the barcodes on my items even as I wave them twenty different ways over the damn scanner. (WHY WON’T YOU SCAN?! WHY?!) There is one cashier that oversees all four of the self-checkout machines, but I’m not sure if they can see my purchases, and even if they do I don’t have to look them in the eye or interact with them in any way.

If I had to set my lone box of cookies down on the conveyor belt and interact with a cashier to resolve a late-night cookie craving, I might have stayed in my apartment and just waited it out. However, I knew I could skate through the pseudo-anonymous self-checkout lane, so I got the cookies without facing an awkward social situation. Essentially, the self-checkout machine has eliminated the element of accountability that used to exist, and as you probably know, accountability is key to weight loss and weight maintenance.

I suppose this is a bad thing, but I would never give up the convenience of the self-checkout lane. Perhaps they could insert a subroutine that would flash the message, “Do you really want to buy that?” whenever I scanned something particularly calorie-dense. I guess that would be bad for sales though, so I don’t see it happening unless a rogue programmer from a competing grocery chain hacks the machines.

On the flip side, the fact that I’ve been recognized by two blog readers since I moved here has made me a little bit paranoid that I’ll be spotted when I make such high-calorie purchases. I lived in Indianapolis for ten years, five and a half of which I spent blogging regularly, and I was only recognized once. That person didn’t say hello, either. They just emailed me later, which was WAY MORE CREEPY than if they’d just introduced themselves. I’ve lived in Chapel Hill for less than six months and I’ve already been made twice. I don’t think that paranoia is any match for the anonymity of the self-checkout machine, though.

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