The other day, whilst expunging my all beef patty & deep-fried potato conscience on the treadmill, I happened to catch on one of the gymnasium’s many monitors a scrolling headline about the future plans of McDonald’s for some 7,000 of the chain’s European locations: to replace cashiers with ABM-like machines. The news registered as only another unsurprising development in our technologically ever-progressive age.
What, exactly, this new configuration will look like is presently left to the active imagination. Will the registers simply be turned to face outward, or could customers print their own boarding passes at the door and receive their meal across the dining room through a mail slot? Will we even see McDonald’s employees engaged in their duties, or will everything take place behind a bank of touch-screens? It’s a separate question entirely as to whether this substitution constitutes an Arcadia of efficiency that will draw in even more ravenous hordes or a dystopia sending previously loyal Hamburglar huggers running straight into Wendy’s arms.
Technophiles will surely instruct us to remain calm. Presumably, the kitchens won’t transform overnight into gloriously retro Automats or sinister ghost towns with sesame seed buns rolling à la tumbleweed. One must expect there will still be employees preparing the Macs and McNuggets, while others whisk away customers’ emptied trays and (sometimes) wipe all surfaces.
This golden, arch future promises strides in efficiency: a purported reduction of three-to-four seconds in the placing of every order, convenience of payment by credit and debit, and, one must cynically deduce, the corporate economics of fewer paid staff required to operate each location.
Of course, for every early adopter, there must be a smug naysayer. Want to read on a wireless tablet? I prefer independent booksellers. Getting your music as electronic files? Give me vinyl! Watching broadcast television? I’m viewing foreign shows not available here when and where I want! Purchasing ready-made sauces? No need when you have a kitchen garden.
Inevitably, not everyone will greet this Jetsons’esque development as a positive step into a brave new tomorrow. Many a pundit has already opined that a reduction in entry-level employment rends a country’s socio-economic fabric. What’s more, automated cash systems bar entry to anyone not possessing plastic means of exchange, further marginalizing those without bank accounts or credit ratings: young people, new immigrants, the homeless. Perhaps no less importantly, this marks yet another removal of human interaction from our daily lives. What of the next generation of emotionally bare, nakedly ambitious Canadian songwriters who might never get the chance to fall for the McDonald’s girl? Once more, the corporation proves cold and soulless despite the sunny advertising imagery and cuddly cast of characters. You’re loving it — but it can’t love you back.
Is it emblematic of our economically unstable times that these once-derided McJobs are now the ones worth fighting to preserve? Is this where the human race makes a stand and fights back against the rising tide of machines? Maybe there is genuine call for concern when we consider that Ronald is an acronym for Arnold, and investment in smart technology at the expense of (intelligent) people brings us ever closer to the possibility of a self-aware SkyNet. Surely, we must turn back now, before an army of Schwarzenegger clones — bastards! — walks among us. But that is another story for another column…
The question of the moment remains: Would you like firings with that?
Image courtesy of joiseyshowaa.