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Technological advances often come with a price

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Cora Rosol and Jackie Patten administrative assistants at Farnham & Pfile Rentals in Rostravaer TWp. decorate the windows for Christmas.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Cora Rosol and Jackie Patten administrative assistants at Farnham & Pfile Rentals in Rostravaer TWp. decorate the windows for Christmas. Jim Ference | The Valley Independent

If you've visited Walmart in Rostraver Township recently, surely you've noticed the new self-checkout facilities on the “supermarket” side of the store.

At four stations, shoppers can pay with credit or debit cards. At four other stations, they can pay with cash.

They self-scan and self-bag items.

In other words, customers do work once done by checkout personnel, many of whom earn minimum or near-minimum wages to put food on their own tables, cope with rising costs of living or remain off public assistance.

To make room for the change, some full-service lanes were eliminated, often resulting in longer lines for shoppers who don't like or don't want self-checkout.

The changes at the local Walmart mark the start of a movement by the nation's largest retailer. Through next year, the company is to install 10,000 SelfServ Checkout lanes at more than 1,200 stores.

The Rostraver Walmart offered a few self-checkout lanes in the past but removed them without explanation.

Modern technology may keep prices down and business profits up, but it eliminates jobs. Usually one or two “attendants” oversee six to eight Walmart self-checkout stations.

No president or Congress can create millions of new jobs, as promised in political campaigns, while business and industry find ways to do more with less. It's capitalism. It's the American way.

An unemployment rate of 8-10 percent is the “new normal.”

The SelfServ Checkout lanes are indicative of emerging technologies that continue to change the lives of people, for better or worse, depending upon your point of view.

In the U.S., it is estimated that up to 10 million jobs have been lost to technology and automation over the past 20 years.

We're at war: Man vs. Machine.

Machines don't call in sick or ask for health insurance. They're not paid wages or enrolled in a pension plan.

How many bank clerks in the Mid-Mon Valley have been displaced as a result of ATMs?

Has anyone you know lost a toll collector job with the Pennsylvania Turnpike because three-fourths of its customers use EZPass?

Do you book flights on-line, print bar-coded tickets at home and check in at automated airline kiosks instead of going through a travel agency?

I still handle personal business the old-fashioned way, writing checks to pay bills and sending them by mail rather than using Internet or PayPal.

More and more, you have no choice.


“Cmon, Joe.”

The following message was forwarded from a gossip website where far too many anonymous people make unfounded accusations and engage in scurrilous personal attacks, misrepresenting or ignoring facts and truth.

“You know everything there is to know about your community,” the writer claimed. “Why not give us the dope on the BVA school board, the Washington Township Water Board [sic], the township supervisors etc.”

I've heard this many times.

Because writing about government entities where I serve in elected or appointed capacities could pose real or perceived conflicts of interest, violate journalistic ethics and enable political opportunism, I have an understanding with Bob Burke, managing editor of The Valley Independent.

That is, the politics and decisions of the school board and its municipalities are off limits in this column, as they should be, with occasional exceptions for general features.

“You could write a book,” the gossip site contributor wrote.

Someday, maybe I will.


Thought du jour - Confucius say, “The best way to save face is to keep the lower part of it shut.”

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