Satisfaction vs. Automation

I stopped at the supermarket on the way home this evening to buy something for dinner.

The experience was typical of these types of excursions. I was standing in line behind someone with a huge order and only one other line – way on the other side of the door – was open. As often happens during these moments of what has to be intentional inconvenience, a supervisor kindly offered to help me use the self-checkout line. When I politely rejected to participate in the automation of her workforce, she said she could check me out herself at her mini register.

As I was leaving, carrying my two items just fine without a plastic bag, thank you, I noticed a nice-enough-looking couple using the Coinstar machine. I’d always wondered about the people who use those. How long had they collected their coins? How large is their collection and how immediate is their need that they are willing to pay 6 cents on the dollar for a machine to wrap up all their change for them? What causes them to be so busy that they can’t sit together and wrap coins over a cup of tea or glass of wine?

I collect my change too. I have a pickle jar that I empty my wallet into every week or so. I’ve used the same pickle jar for as long as I’ve had change to put into it and it’s never been full. I either spend my change before it makes it to the jar or I hand wrap it and put it in my savings account.

Nevertheless, my jar eventually has enough change to capture my attention. When it does, I get loads of pleasure from dumping it all out onto the floor. I sit cross-legged with my pennies, nickles, dimes, and quarters. I delight in counting them out piles of tens, creating a cylinder from the paper, and guiding the bits of money in.

My weekly collection rarely accumulates so many coins to make complete rolls so after twisting up the ends, I write the new amount on the roll, and patiently wait for more change. Acquiring change is a lengthy process since the debit card has become my primary method of payment so this process is oft-repeated until a cylinder is full. Nevertheless, dropping rolls back into my pickle jar provides me with a satisfaction that I can never imagine possible from a machine that’s dispering hands-off neatly rolled rolls.

As I passed that couple, I noticed 28 cents rattling around in my pocket, and I couldn’t help but realize that automation can cost more than much-needed jobs and income. If we give up such humdrum tasks for the sake of convenience and efficiency, we’re also giving up simple pleasures that allow us to connect with the task itself, with one another, and with the ability to have Sandwich Epiphany moments.

<3, C – 20171109


  1. You’re quite right! We forego the simplest tasks to automation, just because it’s there.I’m one who stands in the checkout line too. Self-checkout simply takes jobs away from folks who want to/need to work. It’s amusing, but sad, to see folks standing in a long self-checkout line when they could have just as easily stood in a cashier line and be out of the store faster. Go figure.


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