Sunday, August 28, 2011

Against Efficiency

A friend of mine is a checker at a grocery chain. When she is working, I always go to her line, since I want to talk with her. Today, I chose her line even though several other checkers had shorter lines or no one at all checking out. Three different people asked me to switch lines, since they would be faster: two checkers and a roving manager. Every time I said (politely) that I wanted to talk to my friend.

I felt herded. A central screen tells you which lines are the most efficient, and the managers and checkers are obligated to herd you into the most efficient line.

This is yet another case of technology trumping humanity. We are not allowed to self-sort ourselves into the lines we chose, as has been done for thousands of years in various marketplaces worldwide. An old line from an old song "In the year 2025") comes back to me, "Some machine is doing that for you..." The screen commands obedience, and we must obey.

Refuse it--when necessary. Never let machinery dominate humanity.

Yes, sometimes speed is of the essence, but not always. Remember, not always.

2 comments:

Sirfab said...

Hi Doug.

Since you hold the view that government as inefficient and tyrannical in most of its forms, I find some irony in the fact that you bumped into inhumanity for the sake of efficiency at a grocery store.

Of course, not being a fan of generalizations I offer as a counter the numbered lines at the DMV. There, for some balance!

But suprise, surprise, I agree with you in this case. Plus, America's love for pseudo-efficiency is something that, as a European expat, I always found hard to stomach. I say pseudo-efficiency because Americans can be very inefficient, almost insultingly so (for example, in the name of freedom, you drive some of the most wasteful vehicles on the face of the earth.) So I guess efficiency is in the eye of the free-market's disciple.

Anyway, in a market economy you have to abide and play by the laws of the market. If you don't like the way they treat you at one grocery store, go to another one with the human touch, and chat with your friend when she is off the clock. And don't fear: The government won't regulate who you can talk to at a private business during business hours. That's the manager's job, the unions', and the earnings per share's.

steve said...

Sirfab said...

"Plus, America's love for pseudo-efficiency is something that, as a European expat, I always found hard to stomach. I say pseudo-efficiency because Americans can be very inefficient, almost insultingly so (for example, in the name of freedom, you drive some of the most wasteful vehicles on the face of the earth.) So I guess efficiency is in the eye of the free-market's disciple."

Are Bentleys, Ferraris, Porsches, Citro├źns, Mercedes-Benzes, &c., models of efficiency? Aren't they prime examples of "wasteful," conspicuous consumption?

"The government won't regulate who you can talk to at a private business during business hours. That's the manager's job, the unions', and the earnings per share's."

Actually, the gov't props up labor unions, so that's a false dichotomy.