The next wave of coronavirus disruption? Automation | Gaby Hinsliff

New technology tends to be difficult to implement. Unfortunately for many workers, difficult is the new normal

It’s funny how quickly the strange and unfamiliar become routine. After weeks of awkwardness at the supermarket checkout, suddenly the choreography is getting easier: I’ve almost mastered the new rhythm of packing, waiting decorously for the cashier to move their hand away before swooping on whatever they’ve passed across the scanner. Even the sight of conveyor belts being doused with disinfectant after every customer seems almost normal now, although it shouldn’t.

Supermarket workers have been the forgotten heroes of lockdown, valiantly turning up to work for not much money in one of the few public places the virus can still easily spread, providing the only friendly faces some customers will see until next week. All of which makes the constant appeals over the in-store PA for shoppers to download self-scanning apps – don’t check out, just zap everything as you sling it in the trolley and go! – frankly disconcerting. It sounds the kindest thing, shielding till staff from our filthy germs. But what stops me signing up is a nagging worry about what happens to the cashiers when most people no longer need them. Doing them out of a job seems no way to reward their service. But is queueing at their checkouts morally any better, if all it does is endanger them?

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