|Jinny has been very ill and is currently undergoing rehabilitation in a Bangor facility so she will not be writing her article for awhile. She is making excellent progress and hopes to be able to return to writing her column in the near future... Adele.
Modern technology is a wonderful thing. The tools of technology save us time, labor, and aggravation by zipping us all into the fast lane and eliminating numerous steps in all that we do. It's a wondrous thing indeed, until it breaks down, that is.
I had a personal brush with technological disaster this week in my grocery store. The store itself is a fine example of what our grocery stores have become, with a bakery, snack bar, deli, full service pharmacy, resident florist, movie rental, and all the various bells and whistles that we have come to expect and appreciate in our local food stores. And, of course, it employs all the latest technology that is designed to make our shopping experience faster and more efficient.
Personally, I hate grocery shopping. It involves too much time and effort. I have to do it fairly slowly because I have to be careful to stay within a budget, a feat that becomes more and more difficult with each passing day given the steady rise of prices during our current economic atmosphere. I also have to plan meals and acquire all the necessary ingredients, something that is made more difficult by the fact that my kid is not exactly a versatile eater. And there are so many aisles. Geographically, the modern grocery store is a trip requiring considerable navigational skills and stamina. All in all, it is just not one of my favorite experience.
After a terminally miserable hour in my grocery store I headed for the front to check out only to discover that the lines were backed up into the aisles. There are often lines in the store, but this seemed particularly extreme to me. I soon discovered that the traffic jam was caused by the fact that the store's system had crashed and none of the electronic registers were operating. Nothing could be scanned, rung up, or paid for.
The store manager came to the front and announced this fact in a loud voice, apologized profusely, and promised that the problem would be solved momentarily. I guess everyone believed him because no one moved. I was skeptical.
We all stood there for awhile politely, but as time dragged on, people began to get a little restless. It began as a low key rumbling, but quickly built in magnitude until it became what can only be described as a full scale grumbling. The manager made another appearance when the noise reached a level to suggest the possibility of imminent seismic activity.
The poor man explained that they were having some technical difficulty but that their IT people were working diligently to fix whatever the problem was.
"My ice cream is melting," yelled a lady somewhere in the crowd.
The response to this was a general mumble of agreement, probably from others with melting frozen products.
"Can't you just ring it up the old fashioned way on a regular register?" inquired a voice from somewhere.
"The registers are electronic and won't work if the main system is down", explained the sweating manager.
"I have a pocket calculator", hollered a man from the back.
The manager smoothed back his sparse hair and cleared his throat.
"None of the items actually have prices on them," he said. "Everything works by scanning the bar code or inputing the numbers, which we can't do because the system is down"
I wondered how many times the poor man was going to have to say. "The system is down", before this was all over.
"Well," asked a man in a remarkably reasonable tone, "what is your backup plan?"
The general response to this was a loud hum of agreement from the crowd, as if they all had their own fool-proof back-up plans for everything and were justified in demanding the same from the store manager.
"The back-up plan is a sub-program that our IT people are currently attempting to bring on line," explained the manager weakly. It didn't sound very promising to me.
"A sub-program?", asked a man in a loud, rumbling baritone. "At this rate, a smart chimp with an abacus could get us all checked out of here long before your IT guys get your sub-program going."
There were loud cheers for the chimp with the abacus. Maybe people thought that they had one back in dry goods storage.
In the end, the system stayed down and the manager, apologizing profusely, gave everyone gift certificates and said that the store staff would put everyone's groceries back. Everyone filed out of the store clutching their certificates and looking disgruntled. I heard more than a few confident statements from people who seemed to be convinced that they could solve the whole problem if they were given access to the store system. A lot of people who can manage to send e-mail and buy stuff they don't need online often confuse that talent with the ability to deal with complex software and fatal hardware problems. I felt sorry for the staff, but not sorry enough to put everything in my cart back. After all, I told myself as I walked out of the store, it wasn't like they had anything else to do...the system was down.