The other day while listening to one of Bernard’s interviews I realised that my style of living together with other Destonians is much like people in the future will live when we have transitioned to an Equal Money System. We recently moved into a house and are now figuring out how to go about sharing responsibilities so that we optimise our free time.
While shopping together two days ago, as we were approaching the queue for check-out, we observed how different the check-out was organised then what we are used to from our respective countries – where cashiers typically sit behind computers next to a conveyor belt on which the customer deposits the goods she is about to purchase. It is a known fact that sitting on the computer is not ideal for the human body and that many suffer greatly from the effects upon their health.
When I was working at one of the big entertainment companies producing video games, I recall one day I was walking past a cubicle where I heard someone in an irritated voice shouting computer commands. Curious, I stuck my head around the wall of the cubicle and saw one of the programmers in my team desperately trying to use voice commands to program code – this was years ago when voice input was an immature technology. We started to talk and he told me that he was unable to use his hands because his wrists had incurred carpel tunnel syndrome. He continued to tell me that he had back problems as well but that he was lucky because he received worker’s compensation. Programmers are not the only ones affected by the ‘common’ digital interface. Many people who work the typical low-wage jobs, such as cashiers or bank tellers, or administrators spend their entire day sitting in stationary positions with only their fingers moving and without any significant ergonomic support.
What we saw in this grocery store here in Belgium was different. The cashier was active, standing and moving around constantly. The way this interface works is based on an appropriation of the self-scan mobile devices that some grocery stores have in place for their customers. This approach has never caught on among the shoppers because it involves too many steps as well as the cumbersome carrying around of the scanning device while shopping. Shoppers want in and out with minimal involvement concerning any aspect of the store’s procedure.
The Belgian corporation that runs this franchise was inventive enough to appropriate the mobile scanning device in the following manner. The cashier holds the device to scan the customer’s items while standing in front of two shopping carts that are placed side by side. One of the carts is full of the customer’s stuff and the next one is empty. As the cashier scans each item she places it into the cart that is initially empty. In addition to this setup, there is an electronic scale nearby for items that have to be weight, and also every so often the cashier will stop and make adjustments on the keyboard of the scanning device she is holding in her hand. Once all is scanned and has been transferred to the previously empty shopping cart, the customer walks with the cashier to another computer where the total cost is calculated and money or cards are exchanged. Then the cashier returns to her previous position where she finds the next customer waiting, who has already placed his full shopping cart next to the empty one.
With this interface the body is constantly in motion, walking around, while lifting and placing items into various locations, orchestrating many more movements than what would happen if the cashier sat stationary behind the machine. Granted, the walking around for hours can still be very tiring but it hardly matches the sitting-all-day-in-front-of-your-machine abuse on the body. This shows us that there is plenty of scope to find new ways of interfacing with digital technologies which can reduce the abuse on the physical body.
In sum, the digital interfaces to which we succumb are mostly abusive because they fail to respect the design of the body. To be sure, I am not endorsing the capitalistic system or perpetuating of exploitation and consumerism, what I am observing and communicating is the fact that we are making technologies that are used in every day life which are abusive towards the physical body and that these limitations are self-induced through our acceptance. The point that is being made here is that there are always options to create responsible interactions with technology. The reason why it is currently not possible is due to the nature of our economic system because overhead costs, such reducing abusive technologies for members of staff, is held at a minimum to maximise profit returns. The corruption of course goes much deeper because of the financial mechanism in how technological products are brought 0nto the market which is independent from the development of technologies. The make belief of a technological evolution is only due to the financial markets and is not a question of our ability to make better technologies. Even in this narrow perspective, the checkout service of a Belgian franchise, we can see the difference between one employer to the next, making it clearly an issue of investment when it comes to providing better working environments for employees.
Although in an Equal Money System the job of a cashier will be obsolete, because no one will have to pay for the goods and services produced, the role of the body in daily activities must be scrutinized for any possible abuse via tool use, as it is currently occurring across the various types of tool usage in human society, analogue or digital. This will be specifically addressed with digital technologies and other technical tools in-the-making, where we will conduct thorough research to assess how the body is functioning in conjunction with a particular tool before the tool goes into circulation.
This will prompt much redesign of the current technologies that are abusive to all, especially given the hours some people spend online. When we no longer put profit before life, we no longer have to make it a habit to sit bend over behind machines that cause harm to life.