Friday, 30 April 2010

New technology - boon or curse?

My Luddite tendency is close to the surface. It emerged this afternoon when I visited my local library for the first time in a while to find that checking out books and returning them was now subject to a computerised do-it-yourself system.
I found a (human) librarian to whom to complain. I told him I had a horror of do-it-yourself checkouts at supermarkets and was appalled to find the same principle was being applied to libraries. Books are on a higher intellectual plane than cornflakes and toilet paper and should be recognised as such.
He agreed with me and implied that the whole procedure was a cost ie job-cutting exercise.
However in a separate part of the library I asked a librarian to point me in the direction of the travel section. But she insisted on conducting me to the shelves and helped in looking for a book on London walks.
She told me she approved of the changes because it gave her more freedom to help readers such as myself whereas previously she would have been chained to her desk checking books in and out.
Here we have an example of bottle half-empty, bottle half-full people. In my experience extending computerisation usually means that managements end up shedding jobs rather than improving the service for end-users.
But if, for example, you are in a dead end job a redundancy scheme might very well be welcome to provide the cash to perhaps re-train for a much more worthwhile occupation.
My job as journalist would have ended years ago but for the coming of computer screens. Typewriters were mangling my fingers. In the old days you had to hit the keys hard enough to make nine carbon copies. As a two-finger typist this was crippling.
The introduction of computer keyboards did end some newspaper careers because of repetitive strain injuries but I was one of the lucky ones. Although I worked harder at least I was able to continue in the job.
I wonder if there would be any advantage to a supermarket group advertising that it would keep serve-yourself checkouts to the minimum. At the moment shoppers are avoiding them and queues are twice as long as normal were there are live checkout girls.
This is a battle of wills with company HQs betting that customers will be forced to master the new diy checkouts. If I refuse am I striking a blow for tradition or the forces of reaction?

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What do you think? GC