I used to be one of those old school types who refused to use the self-checkout at the supermarket.
My rationale was that I was being forced to take on the tasks previously carried out by a member of staff – and while the workforce was faced with cutbacks, the products and proceeds remained the same, meaning the customer was taking on labour in order to widen the profit margin for supermarket chain shareholders. I remember pointing this out to a supermarket employee, and he replied by informing me he hated his job, wanted to be a photographer, and only kept working until he was terminated since he wasn’t entitled to social security if he simply quit. I didn’t understand any of it at the time.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was stupidly stuck in my ways for a while on this one.
While the argument around the principle of the profit motive is for another time, the self-checkout – and automation in general – need not be a bad thing. Hear me out on this.
Science and technology is supposed to present us with progress.
Modern medicines and life-saving techniques are commonplace in the hospitals of the “developed” world: from x-ray machines to laser eye surgery, there have been leaps and bounds in making sure humans can live better, longer lives. Meanwhile, green energy has presented us with the prospect of harnessing sustainable resources found in nature: whether it be wind, wave, or solar power, we’ve rediscovered natural ways to fuel our cities without harming the planet, as much as old energy moguls and their powerful friends try to deny it.
Beyond this, we’ve developed many machines that can carry out tasks faster and safer than when reliant on humans. This too is progress, and rather than resisting it for the sake of retaining jobs the likes of our aforementioned photographer friend hates, isn’t it time we embraced it and simply got rid of the jobs most people like him despise too?
Humans share one planet, and we’re constantly reminding each other we’re supposed to “work to live, not live to work.” If that’s the case, surely it’s time we let the automated machinery carry out the tedious tasks we loathe, so that we can get busy living? This, of course, would mean fewer jobs, less work, and adoption of universal basic income (which, again, given our photographer friend’s sense of being trapped in his job, would be a welcome replacement for the welfare systems we have currently). In addition, companies are always looking for ways to adopt automated methods, and when machines can do jobs as well as – even better than – humans, how can you argue against it?
Scott Santens, a leading advocate of the universal basic income, recently said, ‘In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical, and socially skilled.’
Sounds like our photographer friend stuck in the supermarket could actually do just fine.
A community educator and lifelong anti-capitalist activist, Jay Baker (he/him) is the founder of SilenceBreaker Media and has written, produced, and directed documentaries in addition to writing for numerous newspapers, magazines, zines, and websites. His own website is at dukeofhardrock.com.