This is now a regular occurrence.
I am at the supermarket, queuing to pay. A member of staff rushes towards me. His tone is cheerful, as though he has a special treat in store for me. “Would you like to use the self-service till?”
I answer, “Do I get a discount?”
His benevolence fractures into incomprehension. “Excuse me?”
I spell it out. “If I do all the work myself, instead of the cashier, do I get a discount?”
The sales assistant mumbles something which corresponds to a “sorry, no” and scurries away with a self-conscious laugh.
In other words, I am invited to put myself through the inconvenience of scanning all my shopping items, process the payment, and submit to the over-loud instructions of the patronising electronic voice – and still pay the same amount as if a purpose-salaried cashier had done it all for me? Where is the incentive in that?
It is not just that I am lazy. It is also my mini stand against humans losing their jobs to machines.
I take my photos to be printed. I used to place my film roll on the counter, get a receipt, then go back for my photos when they were ready. Now, in the era of Digital, I am expected to plug my memory stick into a computer, and perform a series of operations to select my pictures before printing my own receipt. Yet I pay the same as I did when a sales assistant took care of my order.
I called my mobile ‘phone provider, to ask for help with a technical matter. The customer service representative interrupted me, “You know you can get all this information on our website –”
I cut through him, “Don’t you want your job, anymore? Because if I go to the website, instead of calling you, you’ll become totally redundant.”
Have I misread my contract? Is there a clause which states that the mobile ‘phone company reserves the right to reduce the service but your charges will not be affected?
You find a gorgeous T-shirt in a branch of a well-known trendy clothes chain. It has the brand name printed in large letters over the chest. Ask if you can have the T-shirt at a discount, to validate the contribution of your chest as an advertising space for the chain. The store manager will stare at you in disbelief. Illustrate your point with the examples of Tube and bus poster spaces. None of those come for free. Why would you market a product without some kind of remuneration?
Let us consider this trend in the context of the Big – I mean, Larger – Society, as a whole. Here are a few theories on how this could evolve.
Buy your Tube ticket. Get on the train. The driver offers you the option of driving the train yourself. Or, better still, your weekly travelcard will entitle you to join a pool of volunteers who will take it in turns to drive the Tube train. All that to equip you to become an independent individual who pays London Transport for the fare but, proud and self-sufficient, puts no demands on the authority to provide a service.
As the same self-sufficient individual, you meet your civic responsibilities by joyfully paying taxes and national insurance contributions. However, your conscience does not allow you to sink to begging for anything in return. After all, a decent human being gives freely. Consequently, do not add to the drain on the NHS. When you are ill, first look up all your symptoms on the internet, self-diagnose your ailment, then go and tell your GP what to prescribe. It will save him/her considerable time and effort.
Finally, spare a thought for our over-worked, over-stressed Government. All our Members of Parliament have most generously agreed to wave the 1% pay rise they would have been entitled to. Such a gesture merits appreciation. Let us reward them. Let us allow them to share in the benefits of learning to be self-sufficient, independent, responsible members of The Larger Canvass. Grant them the satisfaction of donating their salaries to the people, and run the country on a voluntary basis. It just does not seem democratic to deny them the pleasure of giving freely, just for the joy of it.