CSotD:  O brave new world, that has such machines in’t.

Arlo and Janis (AMS) have spent a delightful week or so griping about modern times, and this one hit a particular nerve, because I see cars with touchscreens on the dashboard and wonder if that’s any more or less a hazard than a hand-held phone, the use of which is illegal here and in quite a few other states.

Well, apparently Arlo and Janis and I are not the only people questioning the technological improvement, both for safety reasons and because people just don’t want to fuss with touchscreens while they’re trying to drive. Mercedes is not bringing back knobs, which won’t impact me a whole lot, nor is GM, which doesn’t have a sterling reputation for competing beyond name recognition.

But it is nice that other carmakers are responding to consumer preferences.

Roz Chast brings up another topic upon which people grouse, but I think the pushback against self-check contains a substantial amount of astroturfing, perhaps from store worker unions.

The complaint that it takes away jobs, first of all, ignores all the things we do for ourselves. Not only did we used to rely on bank tellers to cash our checks and service station attendants to pump our gas, but stores once had “shop girls” to fetch things off shelves, rather than grocery carts you filled yourself.

Heel-dragging Luddites aside, with an unemployment rate of 3.4%, complaining about lost jobs is particularly silly. Our roadsides are festooned with help wanted ads, and a store with eight or ten check-out lines rarely has even half of them open.

As for being in the mood for human interaction, prodigious number of those open lines are staffed by new hires who have enough on their minds just doing the job, never mind interacting with anybody. If you shop the same store regularly, you learn who’s fast and efficient, but those people get bumped up to middle management and only take a shift on the cash register when the store is flooded.

Dagnabbit, I remember the days before self-check and even before scanners, and a woman named Lucy who could hold a friendly conversation while she quickly rang up your groceries. But in them-thar days, you started as a bagger and moved up to stocking shelves before you were allowed to be a checker. It took a couple of years.

Bring back those nimble, experienced checkers and I’ll go back to using them.

But to do that, you’d have to bring back 7.5% unemployment. Otherwise, grocery stores have to take who they can get.

In other words, self-check doesn’t cost jobs. It reflects the lack of applicants.

Speaking of hiring issues, Alex does a nice whiplash gag with these bankers contemplating a sort of gap-year plan that, instead of enhancing the quality of their hires, turns out to be geared towards stamping out their dreams.

I like the idea of gap years between high school and college, though my generation never thought about stepping off the conveyer belt. And, if we had, the guys would have risked spending our gap year on our bellies in a rice paddy.

In more peaceful times, however, it’s a nice idea to step back and find out what you actually care about, beyond the things you’ve been told you care about. My grandfather told of knowing a guy in World War I who had gotten all the way through college and law school before realizing he didn’t want to be a lawyer, so joined the army as a way out of the dilemma.

But the twist here comes at a good moment, because I just read a thing about how people need to learn critical thinking and suchlike, and it reminded me of when we were all told how corporations liked liberal arts majors because they were so innovative and creative and good at problem solving.

And then we graduated and sold vacuum cleaners, flipped burgers and wished we’d majored in something that actual for-real corporations actually truly looked for.

F Minus (AMS) approaches technical change on a more creative level, and cell phones have genuinely rendered some storylines obsolete, unless you add a particular twist of someone dropping their phone in the water or inadvertently leaving it home or blundering into a dystopian wilderness without coverage.

Call it “Deus done Executed my Machina.”

On a real-world level, it means that, if your car breaks down on the highway, people are less likely to stop to help because they assume you’ve called AAA and are just waiting for the mechanic.

For fiction writers, it means you can’t base an entire comic strip on the fact that police now have radios in their patrol cars, and you can’t leave your characters stranded and imperiled simply by cutting a phone cord.

And you can’t write songs like Memphis, Tennessee in which pay phones and operators figure or ones in which girls stay home hoping the phone will ring or ones like Sylvia’s Mother that make youngsters wonder why he didn’t call her on her own phone.

Kids in the future also wouldn’t understand this Moderately Confused (AMS) gag, but because of a different kind of obsolescence. She speaks a truth that the streamers are starting to recognize, to their chagrin.

It’s not that they killed the goose that laid the golden eggs so much as they found out there’s not a lot of meat on a goose.

As Alex Sherman explains in that CNBC article

The race between the biggest media and entertainment companies to add streaming subscribers, knowing consumers will only pay for a limited number of them, is finished. Sure, the participants are still running. They’re just not trying to win anymore.

To begin with, cord-cutting doesn’t save you a lot of money, unless you live in a city where you can put up an antenna to catch local channels and you don’t care about CNN, MSNBC, Fox or, for that matter, ESPN. Otherwise, you’ll still end up paying for some kind of connection, plus Fubo or Sling or You Tube Television, which combination might save you 20 or 30 bucks over cable.

Which you will promptly piss away on Netflix and Paramount and Disney and more, until, with $20 here and $20 there, you’re spending far more money than you were before, and beginning to realize that you can’t watch them all but you still have to pay for them all.

And now, like the woman in the Stahler cartoon, people are beginning to wise up.

As a result of which a lot of white collar types who worked for streaming services are stretching that 3.4% unemployment rate out of shape.

Funny old brave new world.

15 thoughts on “CSotD:  O brave new world, that has such machines in’t.

  1. My wife and I, after waiting nine months for delivery, drove our Highlander Hybrid off the lot on February 28. It took me a week to figure out how to turn on the radio. The PDF owner’s manual is 572 pages, and the PDF multimedia manual a mere 300 pages. By watching the engine versus battery power distribution I can get 40 mpg . . . and drive straight into a bridge abutment at 70 mph (unless the collision avoidance braking system activates in time). Much worse than a cellphone as your attention and eyes are anywhere but on the road.

  2. Speaking of streaming, I have enjoyed the first two seasons of the modern-day HARDY BOYS series on Hulu, which I guess due to the aging of the young cast puts any further seasons out of the realm of possibility beyond the already shot third season. But, though its modernized, it’s still set in the late ’80s because if it weren’t, most of the mysterious and perilous stuff could never happen, with every kid owning their own phones so they could tell someone that they’re trapped in an old house.

  3. We own an EV with touchscreen EVERYTHING and yeah, more often than not the driver makes one finger jab at the screen before asking shotgun, “Hey, can you turn on the lights for me?” In my experience, the user interface design makes a huge difference: if the function you need is on the home screen, you learn where to jab your finger with a quick glance. No problem. But if the function takes a couple of clicks, it might not happen at all. We keep our radio tuned to one station most of the time because we’d rather not risk dying to change it. (That said, I LOVE this car! Just wish it had a better UI.)

    I’m going to push back on “self-check doesn’t cost jobs. It reflects the lack of applicants.” I’m pretty sure stores could have a thousand applicants per position and reject them all in favor of the machines. Machines don’t miss shifts or threaten to unionize. I’m not a Luddite but a couple of things irritate me. I don’t like them in grocery stores when you have to go through an elaborate process to tell the machine you’re buying broccoli, but with stems not just the florets, and not organic, dammit. I don’t like the person standing at the door to scrutinize my receipt; don’t make me do a job I’m not trained to do and then demand to check my work! If you’re that concerned about shoplifting, put humans back on the registers. I’ve also noticed at my big box hardware store that most of the self-checkouts are closed at any given time. Curious why so many machines would be constantly inoperable, I asked the staffer about it–turns out they’re only allowed to open two machines per staffer so they can stand there and watch for crime. Which to me sounds like they’re halfway back to just opening regular registers staffed by humans.

    Our daughters cut the cable cord and are saving about $100 per month with a modest slate of streamers (plus perhaps a password they’re sharing with their parents). It works very well for them but they’re not heavy TV viewers, and chose carefully to get a streamer that gives them 90% of what they’d watch anyway (Sling, IIRC). Conversely, Karen and I are about ready to cancel our streaming services because there ain’t a darn thing on them we want to watch. I think this how old guys end up sitting in the park watching the squirrels.

  4. I have a Smart ForTwo. When I took it in to the dealer to be serviced (Mercedes dealship with the one person in the area who knows how to work on Smart) they gave me a brand-new Mercedes as a loaner. Two problems: it took me a long time to figure out how to get started, and once it was started I was afraid to drive it. Too many controls, and it probably cost more than a year’s salary.

    1. Back in the day, besides potentially winning a government-paid trip to Viet Nam, taking a gap year also could entail losing scholarship and financial aid opportunities.

  5. “Physical buttons are increasingly rare in modern cars. Most manufacturers are switching to touchscreens – which perform far worse in a test carried out by Vi Bilägare. The driver in the worst-performing car needs four times longer to perform simple tasks than in the best-performing car.”

    Later in the article they discuss the safety implications of that “far worse performance.”


  6. Or my stove.

    If I turn on the oven and don’t want the default setting of 350 degrees, I have to touch the screen once for every five degrees of change.

    Oh, for a knob!

    1. Why “local TV”? What is provided by local TV that you can’t get from local radio? News, weather, high school sports?

      1. You must live in a major metro, because 100 miles out, all you get is robo-DJ programmed music, religion, rightwing lectures and …. no, that’s about it.

  7. My big gripe is only being given info on how to turn this smartphone on & off & NOTHING else! A “Luann” comic recently had her telling mom her smartphone had a zillion features but you had to fiddle with it to learn anything (then mom lamented ” Yet my shampoo bottle has instructions to “Lather, rinse, repeat!”)

  8. Bound by electronic gizmos, arent we? Fab to have. Gee you can watch anything from 3 stooges to Monk to Price is Right…..ad nauseum.
    I enjoy films noir from 1940- 1955.

  9. Easy! When you have watched everything you want to, unsubscribe. Pay only for what you want.
    Back in my day we had radio, records and operator assisted telephones. That’s right, you picked up the phone and told the operator the number you wanted to speak to. And she (almost always) would make the connection manually using phone plugs

  10. People that hate labor unions or simply undervalue the working class always think that a job being automated is some great thing…
    Until a store is giving me the equal percentage off that a worker would make, why do I want to contribute to the loss of another human’s job?
    The unemployment numbers are skewed by adults working two or three jobs, and teens-to-younger adults aren’t typically counted because they never entered the workforce to begin with…
    As for the argument that people don’t WANT certain jobs (which also feeds into illegal immigration debates), the real issue is pay. For more money, humans prove consistently to take nearly any job, regardless of eben personal safety risks.
    So going back to my first sentence, it always becomes obvious that some people are for the workers and the bottom 90% of the income brackets, and some are for giving more profits to the corporations and the top 10% of the tax brackets that own them.

    Lastly, when much of our society it automated and robotized, remember these days…
    Because there won’t be enough coding jobs (even if there were capable applicants) to go around for the swollen numbers of unemployment the world (and certainly the United States) will have created.
    All that concern some have for making sure Ford or Hickmart can squeeze another tenth of a penny from the working folks will look much different when we have to install some form of Universal Basic Income to keep the “unwashed masses” from storming the Koch family’s gates.

    1. As long as you’re not pumping your own gas, using an ATM or putting shopgirls out of work by filling your own grocery cart, I’m fine with you not using the self-check. As for being paid, there’s a thing called “avoided cost” usually applied to electrical generation but that fits here: You’re being “paid” by them not raising prices to have more $16.50 an hour clerks on duty, not to mention the cost of shopgirls and pump jockeys (who are also mechanics) these days.

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