Monday, March 30, 2009

Are Wal-Mart Greeters Next to be Laid-off?

Welcome to a bonus edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. Today we learn that Chicago's O'Hare Airport has replaced all its greeters with computer kiosks. Some points:

  • First of all, I had no idea O'Hare had greeters. I lived in the Midwest for a good chunk of my life, and I have flown out of O'Hare more than a few times. Where the hell were these greeters? Were they like Chicago voters? You know, the dead ones that always show up on Election Day?
  • And check this out, these greeters made a pretty decent salary. According to the article, anywhere from 38K to 58K. Heck, in some cases, they made more than I do. On the positive, I am still employed. And this is probably better than what the Wal-Mart greeters make.
Which leads me to the observation that it may be a matter of time before Wal-Mart greeters get replaced by computers. However, unlike the Chicago airport, Wal-Mart does not just have greeters to say hello to people. They are there to keep an eye out for shoplifters. Now, little old granny may not be able to tackle the average crook down (or maybe I am wrong. There are some very tough grannies out there). The point is that Wal-Mart may have some more sophisticated needs in terms of greeters who can also work at loss prevention. May I make a suggestion?

Sure, it may have some bugs, but this may save some money in the long run, which is what Wal-Mart is about: saving you money and keeping those prices low, and what better way to do it than with a piece of computer technology. Plus, in some hot neighborhoods, no one would dare steal from Wal-Mart with one of those puppies parked in front. Heck, I would probably not even dare to shop there.

Now one of my two readers may think I am just being too snarky or mean. Well, if folks have seen the film Robocop, especially, the first one, they know that the film does make a strong commentary about what happens when you start letting corporatism run wild, when you think you can replace every human being with a machine (for every Officer Murphy you get a few ED 209s or worse), and when you think you can simply sweep problems under the rug. It is also a fine example of the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." If my two readers recall, in the Robocop films, OCP, the big bad corporation, is always trying to come up with something to replace Robocop, and what happens? Robocop has to come in and fix the mess, proving he works just fine.

Sure, we can make a little joke about the O'Hare people being replaced by machines. But this would not be the first time a machine has come and replaced humans. Just look at the history of automation over time. Think of those pesky call centers we hate where you never reach a human being. The line goes that people will simply do other tasks that the machines can't do. But how long before we make machines that kick us out of our jobs because they are (supposedly) cheaper? I am sure some of the powers that be in MPOW would love to lay off librarians and replace them with a computer and an automated phone tree. Not very likely to happen because at the end of the day, there are some things you still need a human for, like basic human contact and service. So, one has to wonder what does O'Hare lose in terms of generating goodwill from visitors to Chicago in laying off their greeters in favor of impersonal computer kiosks.

Just a thought.

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