The trend started with gas stations. If you have stopped in New Jersey lately I am sure you have appreciated being treated like royalty. The attendant actually comes out from behind the protection of the bulletproof booth and graciously fills your tank, washes your windshield and may even check your oil! Imagine that! You don’t even pay extra for the privilege. But such “full service” has become the exception rather than the rule in many different realms of life. The barcoding and scanning technology have developed to the point where we are in the information age rather than the personalization age.
The switch over to “self-service” (which really constitutes no service at all) seems to be all-consuming and pervasive. The axiom certainly applies here: “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” Although in some instances you could certainly make a case that the consumer benefits from an added measure of convenience and speed. For example, I have no problem with ATM machines (but then no one has yet leaped out from the shadows and attacked me). My Dad never could adjust to this innovation. He insisted on standing in line to transact his business with a live teller … but I have graduated from the walk-up machines to the drive-thru machines with only minor bouts of insecurity. I am also fine with motorized golf carts as a replacement for caddies.
There are other instances where choosing to provide your own service is simply a matter of personal preference. My wife prefers the “U-pick-it” option when it comes to fruit just like we have made cutting down a live Christmas tree our family tradition. The rationale here involves more complex issues of enjoying the overall experience.
Sometimes we are presented with clear economic choices: we can continue to pay for an automatic car wash or we can shell out fewer shekels and use their equipment and stall to wash our own car. When it comes to “Adventures in Moving” the U-Haul-It option is not really selected for the thrill of it. I guess those are fair financial decisions. People are choosing to make their own travel and accommodation reservations rather than paying for the services of a travel agent. The list goes on and on.
However, self-service cannot always be packaged up in a positive sense. How do you like the signs in our State and National Parks advising us that we have the privilege of portaging our own trash? If we are paying for park personnel but cannot even get the minimal functionality of trash pick-up … it makes you wonder where the money goes?? Maryland calls their program: Leave No Trace and spells out very detailed obligations. (Maybe they are confused with the TV series “Without a Trace”??) If I’m walking my dog in a public place I willingly assume the responsibility of wielding the Pooper Scooper (even thought the ambiance of a walk in nature becomes distasteful when carrying the requisite blue plastic bag of dog-poopie).
But you have to wonder what is coming down the road? Will we be taking a number at the Deli Counter only to stand in line for the privilege of serving up our own cuts of meat and cheese? Will we have the option at the dentist to take our own X-rays for a reduced rate (as long as we are willing to assume the additional liability)? Will all restaurants degenerate into cafeterias? Will the Continental Lunch and Dinner follow on the footsteps of the Continental Breakfast and replace fine dining. (Remember those old vending machines where you could buy any type of meal and just serve yourself?)
Self service has already come to the legal system. Now you can fill out your own will and perform a number of simple legal procedures; apparently individuals are choosing to represent themselves in court more frequently – causing some state court systems to provide some standard forms and guidance (cf. Indiana Supreme Court)
Sometimes the transition to embracing the new technology can be a little intimidating. When I first began using the self-checkout lines at the grocery store and retail outlets, I relied on the intuitive smarts of my youngest daughter to help me through the steps. I mean who wants to hold up an angry line of shoppers while you try to find the code for charging out some exotic fruit or vegetable? I fail to see why I should continue to pay the same prices as before when I had both a clerk to ring up the tally, and a bagger to efficiently pack my groceries.
Once again we have been sold a bill of goods in the name of “Progress”. Give me the good old days anytime where people waited on me hand and foot. “Service with a smile” used to be the common slogan … now we have replaced it with the less personal: “Knock yourself out.”