By Ray Lesser
I used to have a job pumping gas, as did millions of other young men of my generation. For many, this was an entry-level path to becoming a mechanic, or perhaps one day, a service station owner. All these jobs are gone. You pump your own gas, fill your own tires, check your own fluids, and live the rest of the day with the grease and drops of gas on your own hands, because you don’t have time to wait in line to use the restroom at the 7-11 type of corporate-owned business where we all get our fuel.
The goal of the capitalist system seems to be to figure out a way to avoid having to pay anybody anything to do work. The more employees a company can eliminate, the bigger the profits for its shareholders. So they’ve made us our own bank tellers, grocery clerks, waiters, and bus people. Go to the airport and you are supposed to check your own bags and print your own tickets. When will we get to fly our own planes?
Go to a hotel pool and there are rarely any lifeguards. If it comes to it, you’re supposed to save your own life. In schools, so many classes and curricula have now moved online that many students are basically expected to teach and grade themselves and print out their own diplomas. And when I went to the ballpark recently, they’d gotten rid of the ticket sellers. Now you have to purchase tickets from a vending machine. I’m expecting that soon even the ticket scalpers outside the park will figure a way to be self-serve, probably some sort of R2D2-like robot, who will roll and run away when the Robocop on the beat tries to arrest it for scalping.
The milkman, meatman, and produceman that used to come to the back door in my youth and ask Mom what she needed, have all been replaced by Walmart superstores filled with every item that the Chinese manufacture, all in one arena-sized convenience store, located only a ten-minute traffic jam from the freeway exit.
I’m amazed at the nerve of coffee chains that pay crummy wages and then have a tip jar at the register. I’m supposed to wait in line to order and pay for my coffee, wait in another line to pick it up and take it to my table, get my own refills, and bus my own table, but they think I should tip their cashier? If I’m going to do all the work that a waitress at a café used to do, then I should be the one getting a tip.
Online we read each other’s sales pitches to help sell ourselves on best buys, then do our own data entry, and take our own money. Afterwards, we tout our latest purchases on Facebook to encourage friends to buy what we just bought. We’ve all become Mad Men. Journalists and cartoonists have been laid off, so now we do our own reporting, often posting it for free on websites that make their money selling ads to the people who come to read our observations and jokes. Restaurant and travel reviewers have been replaced by Yelp or other services where we write recommendations and advice to fellow travelers. We’ve become our own travel agents, baggage handlers, and, thanks to GPS, taxi cab drivers. I’m anxiously waiting for the first four-star restaurant that lets you cook your own dinner and wash your own dishes.
If we’re going to devote most of our lives to doing all the jobs that other folks used to do for us, we’re going to need to figure out how to move this self-service trend down the line. We need to teach our children to change their own diapers and be their own babysitters. Maybe we can also figure out how to get our dogs to walk themselves.
We need self-cleaning dishes to go with our self-cleaning ovens. Floors that will mop themselves and plants that are self-watering. Cars that drive themselves and trucks that make their own deliveries. I need a computer that can throw away all my spam and answer all my e-mails, and a phone that can incinerate robocallers and use the energy created to heat my spa.
We’ve already got toilets that flush themselves, so why not garbage cans that take themselves to the curb? When will the self-driving cars begin to do their own oil changes and lube jobs? Actually, is there even such a thing as a lube job anymore, and why is it so much fun to say lube job? Lube job, lube job, lube job.
Farmers will start growing corn that plants, fertilizes and picks itself, and then converts itself to ethanol and sells itself at the farm-stand to the self-driving cars that stop by.
The military already has drones to do its targeted killing and pretty soon those will be self-directed. When the enemy gets the same capability, the drones can spend all day killing each other while the rest of the armed forces occupy themselves with more important tasks, like taking selfies and playing Minecraft and Solitaire on their phones, like the rest of us.
Now if only we could figure out a way to govern ourselves …