The breakaway occurred a nanosecond after I’d placed the memory card adapter on the counter at Best Buy, and suddenly I was minus the two bots I’d walked in with. Fortunately, bots are predictable, and often loud, and so I and the young, helpful checkout dude found them in seconds: they’d whipped around the corner in the thiry-foot-long chute leading to the bank of cash registers to play with the light sabers displayed six inches above the floor. “Well,” I said, “There is a sign on the display that says “Play with me!”
Checkout Dude laughed. The bots were cool with it when I explained we weren’t getting light sabers today, and home we went to download photos, having survived one more trip down a checkout chute.
There didn’t used to be checkout chutes, and now they’re everywhere–Toys ‘R’ Us, Barnes and Noble, JoAnn Fabrics. Grocery store checkout lines started it, by displaying impulse-buy items not only at adult eye-level but at the eye-level of everyone forty inches tall whose ability to successfully battle impulse won’t be fully developed for another twenty years. The bots know not to grope the gum and candy at the grocery counter. The line there is generally short, and since we don’t munch a lot of gum and candy in our house, they don’t know yet how hard they should be fussing for that bag of m&m’s.
But I’ve long had trouble at the other stores, where the store designers know their customers–many of them mothers with small children–and design lengthy checkout chutes lined with shelves piled high with small, cheap, bright, easily broken toys, games, cards, candy. All the assorted crap from China there in one narrow place where mothers with small children are confined for what feels like an eternity, wondering how they ever raised such hooligans, as the mothers grab for small hands, repeating, “No, no, not today, put that back, it’s going to break.” Meanwhile, their rocketing stress levels are hacking minutes, if not hours, off their lifespans.
If Temple Grandin designed a more humane chute for cattle on their way to slaughter, really, don’t mothers deserve better?
Even eighteen months ago, I would think, “I can’t let my children behave that way,” and, “If we break it, then we’ll have to buy it.” But after nearly two years now of shopping with weebots-on-the-go, I have come to feel differently. I choose to no longer take responsibility for the big box store managements’ decision to pump up sales by herding customers into a forty-foot long Chute of Crap in order to purchase the one or two items they entered the store for.
Call me a bad mother, call me an irresponsible shopper, call me an ungrateful consumer or an hormonal anarchist–but if my bots, who are generally polite, well-behaved, law-abiding citizens, at least in public–remove from shelves and fiddle with candy, toys, and other assorted crap–that was placed there specifically to draw their attention and make them want it–it is not my responsibility to buy anything that breaks, put everything back in the right place, or keep them from touching it in the first place.
It’s different while we’re in the act of shopping–the bots know not to squeeze the nectarines or even grab the Spidermobile off the shelf (usually), and if they do, we buy the nectarine, bruised as it might be. We discuss the Spidermobile and return it to the shelf. We get back on task.
But in the Chute of Crap, waiting is the task. The store designers know this. And I’ve decided that they can take responsibility for damage done or chaos wreaked.
Young as they are, I’m trying to teach the bots some consumer psychology, but knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into power.
I’ve told them that people put the stuff there just to make kids want to buy it, that it breaks easily and tastes yucky (the first part, at least, is true.) Not long ago, leaving the grocery store, Mbot watched the gumball machine, swiveling his head as we passed it and walked out the door. Then he asked thoughtfully, “Mom? Did a human put that gum thing there just to make kids want to buy it?”
“Yes,” I replied, glad that he’d been listening.
“Mom,” he said. “It’s working.”
He’s right. I keep thinking about those little light sabers at Best Buy. They were so cute, and so cheap, and the salesguy was so kind….