Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Automation of Joe Sixpack

Like most guys, I really don't like shopping. In most instances crowds bother me and when you throw in having to navigate around some soul trying decide whether he or she wants “Spectacular Brand A” or the “Magnificent Brand B” when both are the same thing down the molecular level you can easily come to doubt overall human sanity. Just because I'm in a particularly bad mood, I'll regurgitate the tired fact that dealing with the locals where I live often makes me wish there was a massive earthquake fault running underneath the town long overdue for a release of energy. After years of confinement in this inbred, suburban dystopian hellhole, shopping around them is the crap icing on a cake made of week-old roadkill.

For those reasons, and probably a couple of dozen more equally childish, I tend to shop early in the morning after I get off work. These retail runs always involve picking up milk, bread, eggs, and a few other must-haves. The biggest question connected to these relatively quick visits to a grocery store involve just where I will stop. Since I clock-out from work earlier than most people assigned to the night shift my choices are narrow.

I can hit the newest upscale grocery store to the area which nicely offers financing on all items. In other words while it offers excellent service and merchandise, the place is quite expensive. Its chief advantage for me being its awesome signature sandwich bar and its variety of beers so large it makes me want to shed tears of joy. Equally important is its location close to one of those small express gyms that is either open twenty-four hours or so early it might as well be. On almost every early morning milk run there are several extremely attractive ladies doing their own shopping while wearing skin tight athletic attire. No, I don't quite make a fool of myself having long mastered the ability to gawk using my peripheral vision. Now don't ask me how many times I stumbled over a floor display while quietly lusting in my heart.

The only problem with the expensive upscale grocery store is that I still have to pay for things like electricity, water, and the mortgage. For those reasons my lovely spouse recently laid down the law saying I have to do the milk and bread runs at Wally Mart.

Walking into Wally Mart is like visiting purgatory. It's not hell, but the ungodly long aisles inside its cavernous, badly lit warehouse-like building suggests what that place might be like. Adding to Wally Mart's sad nature for me is the fact it is lacking in attractive women walking around in skin tight athletic attire. No, during the early hours of the morning what you see there is Mary Lou and Joe Sixpack lining the shelves with new products and pulling pallets of cheaply made crap out of the stock room.

In an attempt to be reasonable and give the Devil some credit, Wally Mart's products are by in large decent and cheaply priced, but that is where things get complicated. See, everyone should understand by now that Wally Mart keeps things cheap by purchasing the vast majority of its merchandise from overseas. An unfortunate fact that is certainly copied by all other major retailers because their chief desire is to squeeze every last possible cent of profit out of their customers. And to be fair spoiled American consumers say they are patriotic and want to keep our country strong. But not enough to pay extra for a television or a winter coat so corporate bigwigs just might think twice about sending jobs out of the country.

Their other avenue of corporate revenue enhancement is by paying their workers, the aforementioned Mary Lou and Joe Sixpack, as little as legally possible. This where I begin to share my “steady intelligence”-- notice the play on words there-- and get to my main point.

For those who frequent Wally Mart, and many other retailers including regular grocery stores, self-checkout terminals have grown increasingly important in the bottom line calculations done by management. Usually installed in a cluster of six off to one side from the normal manned registers, self-checkout terminals allow the customer to take on the task of scanning each item in their cart and then bagging it on a small platform that includes a weight scale. Combined with close circuit cameras aimed at the shopping cart that watch for any customer malfeasance, computers integrated with the bagging platform scale know the weight of each item and make sure the store gets every penny coming to it.

Want to utterly freak out the little silicon-based brains of the self-check out terminals? Scan an item and not place it on the bagging platform. A pleasant but panicky synthesized voice will instruct you to do just that with increasing urgency until you comply. I imagine noncompliance would eventually result in the manager being alerted and calling the cops.

Well paid and expertly dressed toads who work in advertisement have crafted nifty multimedia messages to their customers saying self-checkout terminals are a service to them so they spend less time in line and more with their precious loved ones. It doesn't take much in the way of IQ points to figure out that self-checkout terminals are really just technology grocery stores use to avoid paying a person to be a cashier. What's slightly funny though at this particular moment in time is that Wally Mart has yet to remove the multitude of unused manned checkout lines at the front of their stores. Sort of reminds me of an ancient drug store in my hometown back when I was a kid.

While this establishment still filled medical prescriptions and sold over the counter things like cold remedies and shaving razors, the seriously old fashioned soda stand/lunch counter had long since been closed and permanently blocked off. For a kid of about five or six years-old pondering the use of all the dusty gizmos and devices, the soda stand/lunch counter took on an air of mystery like a newly discovered Egyptian tomb.

You don't have to be a science and technology geek to know robotics and automation systems are advancing at such a rapid rate that some futurists are at a minimum freaking out about the disappearance of the jobs people like Mary Lou and Joe Sixpack depend upon. I could define those types of jobs in a tactful way and just call them “blue collar.” But we're in the twenty-first century so lets face it, those positions are the modern version of such jobs as blacksmith, telegraph operator, elevator operator, or “Soda Jerk” for those who once behind drug store lunch counters.

In fact, while I have never been in one of the”wish fulfillment centers” Amazon runs, I've heard such places are already heavily automated. They can be viewed as Wally Mart without the need for any customer interaction. We're essentially talking stock room management and distribution of merchandise to proper departments so they can be shipped. Something current robotic and automation technology can do with ease. Without being delicate, that is exactly what Joe and Mary Lou Sixpack were doing a few morning ago as I rushed in to buy milk and Captain Crunch.

If this is the case you maybe wondering why Wish Fulfillment Center human employment is so large. That's a result of the facilities being so freaking mammoth. The ultimate goal of such retail companies is for further automation technology to be incorporated into the running of their facilities allowing for a reduction in the human payroll. When a low or semi-skilled job is on the verge of being eliminated, there is absolutely no reason to pay decent wages.

The problem I'm personally seeing here is not evil overseas factories stealing American jobs, nor Skynet-like robots and automation systems working hard to make basically honest humans obsolete. The problem quite frankly stems from Joe and Mary Lou Sixpack. Before anyone loses their mind from my hideous attack on simple folks who just want to Make America Great Again just stifle your outrage and read on.

I've worked around people who easily qualify as Joe and Mary Lou Sixpack all my life. While I am in a bad mood, I can write in all honesty that such people lack the most basic imagination and willingness to push the boundaries of their knowledge. As long as their basic needs like beer, satellite television with companion sports channel package, and a job that pays for the electricity to keep the beer cold and the video feed going, they are happy. It really doesn't matter if that job is the employment version of a dinosaur grazing on grass oblivious to the five-mile wide asteroid about to slam into the planet.

In a limited sense, the Sixpacks do understand the world is changing. Hence the instinctive fear of newly arrive immigrants and the desire for a savior to make all the bad stuff go away. Learning something new is hard and it upsets the mental apple carts of the Sixpacks when they discover some aspect of their preconceived notions are wrong. That's probably why such cable channels like History and Discover, which started out with lofty educational goals, have mostly devolved to simplistic shows involving cars and wilderness survival.

There is one positive aspect of this situation. Believe it or not the United States faced a similar situation at the beginning of the twentieth century. At one point during that time forty percent of all jobs in the United States were agriculture related. But automation technology like gas driven tractors and numerous other devices have reduced that percentage down to two percent. All those displaced, barely educated farm workers just didn't disappear, they became part of the “High School Movement” which gave them the abilities to move into factory jobs.

Throw in the labor unions that stood up to the corporations and forced them pay decent wages and respect their workers, and you pretty much have what did make America great.

Yes, we have numerous technical schools and community colleges that are the modern equivalents to those early high schools. But two factors are limiting their ability to produce a well trained work force. The first is cost, while there are scholarships and aid programs for needy students, far too many for various reasons can't get access to them to attend anything after high school. Some do fit between that bizarre space where their parents make too much money to qualify for aid but not enough to pay for their kids post-high school education.

Going to get nuanced here, but the second reason revolves around our lack of vision or understanding that the world is changing. Technical schools can churn out HVAC technicians and certified electricians like machine guns can fire off rounds but it means nothing if such individuals do not understand that there is more to the world than just keeping a building cool or tracing out a faulty ground wire. The High School Movement just didn't mean job opportunities, the diverse academic curricula pushed students to have a worldview wider than just the county or state they lived. More importantly, these schools were free and, with glaring exceptions for race and gender, open to everyone.

Even if everyone decided tomorrow that our society should offer free technical schools and community colleges, and it should, nothing will improve until the Sixpacks and their slightly more educated kinfolk, want to do more than just wish for the good old days and wait for a savior. The rest of the developed world is not waiting for us to pull our MAGA heads out of our ignorant asses.

Check out the Ted Talk for a much better explanation of my point:


goatman said...

I think Joe and Marylou are now separated.
Nice rap.

Donna said...

Wow – this is great!

Also, "crap icing on a cake made of week-old roadkill" – BRILL!

Ranch Chimp said...

Good posting on REALITY (I already seen that video before). But I hear ya, Bum (know what you mean). Frankly, I dont like f'n Walmart, went there years ago, cause it was 24/7 grocery a couple blocks from me. But I do all my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's (it's just my wife and I), not sure if you have them there? ... I used them in LA and Dallas. But their prices for their own brands (Trader Joe brand) are very competitive and as low as any grocery store , including Wally Mart, and the thing about their products, it they are not packed with all the crap and sodium like most stuff these dayz. The store is small, where you dont have to go a half a mile to get your other item, etc. The people are friendly and PAID above the bunk wages of the giants, the lines are smaller, and they dont ask you to check and bag your own shit, telling you some shit like, "it's for your convenience". A link below, to share my equal nausea with you, as far as this, and advertisement saturation and aggressive marketing ... later, guy

Pixel Peeper said...

...newest upscale grocery store... You went to Lowe's Foods, didn't you? ;-)

Not sure if Lidl has opened yet, but I have to direct you there, as soon as it opens. Trust me. I bought a lot of calories at the one in Greenville.