Tuesday, 4 August 2009

"Self-service or self-serving?"

Today in the Daily Express, Nigel Burke expressed his disgust at the ubiquity self-service machines and asked for a return to being served by “saucy checkout girls”. As is probably clear, there were many things to be appalled by in the editorial including the complete lack of argument for the disposal of self-service machines: Mr. Burke was guilty of a slippery slope fallacy and generalising from his inability to use self-service machines to everyone's supposed inability. But the factor that made me curl my lip in revulsion was the sense of entitlement that the article expressed: the idea that another human being ought to do a task for me that I could do myself.

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing some work experience at an inner-city law firm. It was situated in a building where various businesses rent single offices and their respective employees have an unspoken pact to never smile at one another in the corridors. These offices shared a communal kitchen and after enjoying a hot beverage, I was told to leave my dirty cup and spoon in the sink. “Who cleans the dirty stuff?” I asked. My temporary boss replied with a shrug.

Later that week I discovered that there was a cleaning lady who washed all the cups for the whole floor. It made me feel bad to have a complete stranger cleaning up after me and so during my time there I missed out on a number of hot beverages. I couldn’t bring myself to leave a cup that I had made dirty out on the side for someone else to clean: why should it be their responsibility? What pressing work prevented me from cleaning my own cup? Why should I let someone do my work for me?

My moral code could be broadly classified as utilitarian: I believe in minimising suffering as much as possible. This means that if it is possible for me to have a minimal amount of suffering by cleaning my own cup rather than allowing someone else to suffer by adding to a large pile of cups to clean, I will do the former. Unlike Mr. Burke, I don’t believe that it is the purpose of the working class to provide inconsequential little luxuries to the middle class. I don’t believe that someone should suffer minimum wage for a task I can perform myself. I don’t believe that one person should do all the work if that work can be spread over a number of people.

Until machines can take over all of our tasks and take all the suffering onto their non-sentient super-consciousnesses, my utilitarianism and my pride will keep me cleaning up after myself and using self-service machines. The day I become lazy enough to desire a human servant is the day I lose my soul.


hamst3rf1sh said...

Ironically most of the staff working on tills hate self-service machines. There's nothing more demoralizing than watching somebody using a machine instead of coming to you. I agree with you in principle though; it's ludicrous to expect others to pick up after you. To expect others to serve you in that manner is to perceive yourself, or just your time to be of a greater value.

Simon XIX said...

There are good reasons to dispose of self-service machines: decreasing the amount of self-service machines increases the amount of jobs for people who otherwise wouldn't have them, for example.
Machines vs. humans aside, it is the selfish laziness expressed by the Express writer that I object to.