Machine Talk

Written by: Kim Fundingsland

I replied courteously and, realizing what I had done, looked around quickly to see if anyone was listening. There was. How embarrassing!

But wait. People within hearing distance were not staring, pointing or anything like that, just chatting. Much to my relief, nothing out of the ordinary was directed toward me.

However, some of those same people were talking back to the self-checkout screen that was backing up on-screen messages by verbally issuing instructions. It was the same odd behavior I had just caught myself doing.

At home I talk to Alexa, too much perhaps, but I’m not at all certain I can turn on a light by myself anymore. I’m too used to asking Alexa to do it even when I’m an arm’s length from the light switch. But on this day, in a retail business with many other customers nearby, I was talking to a machine, at least until I realized what I was doing.

I had a look around, expecting people to be putting some distance between themselves and the guy talking to himself, but that wasn’t happening. Rather, I saw and heard other customers yakking away at self-checkout screens too.

Machine: “Please scan your first item.”
While I’m fumbling around for the barcode on the item the machine tells me again, “Please scan your first item.” I believe I detected a hint of impatience too.
Machine: “Place item in bag.”
Me: “Hang on. Let me get the darned thing open.”
Alexa never gives me such orders. Not yet anyway.
After scanning the few items I wanted and placing them in the bag, it was time to insert, scan, or tap a credit/debit card and be on my way. Or so I thought.
Machine: “Would you like a receipt.”
Me: “Ah, sure.”

That’s when I looked around to see who was watching. But hey, in my defense, at least I didn’t start the conversation.
On a short walk to my vehicle in the parking lot I could not help but reflect on how much technology is affecting our everyday lives, for better or worse. Mostly for the better, I reasoned, but I kept those thoughts to myself rather than talking aloud.

I’m considering going back to the store’s self-checkout to visit with the machine and ask a few questions. Perhaps say what I really think. Naw, that would probably get me an escort out of the building. Best I check with Alexa first.

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