Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You, robot

My Canberra Times column today is 'We are dehumanised by automatic work processes'.

Prompted by a strange supermarket interaction ("You forgot to ask about Fly-Buys"), I'm discussing the dehumanising expectations we have of retail workers.  A sample:
There is no doubt that loyalty card reminders are part of the worker's job - a job she chooses to pursue for pay. The point is not that she, or any other supermarket worker, is a passive victim in need of saving.  
The point is that this gentleman's officious intrusion reveals a great deal about customer expectations: often we want other citizens to be mechanical, particularly when they are serving us. Not because we are cruel or vindictive, but because we happily reduce human beings to their functions in our day.  
As we do, we diminish existence a little: theirs and ours. Because eventually we are surrounded by people whose tedium ensures our satisfaction, and whose recognition means nothing to us. Relationships are reduced to swift, seamless transactions, which are existentially vapid or quietly hostile. It is, in other words, another way to weaken community, one anonymous purchase at a time.  
This insight will not transform Australia's workplace; will not spread more generously the rewards of autotelic work. It is simply a reminder: that there are more rewards in civilised human intercourse than those from loyalty cards.
(Photo: news352.nu)

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