because the more things change the more they stay the same

Archive for April, 2011

>My Life as a Bar Code


I recently took on part-time employment as an “associate” (new world term for store clerk) in a local department store. My official department assignment is Point-of-sale (new world term for cash register). Now I scan and hit computer keys and once in a while people actually pay with cash.
I remember my first part-time job as a store clerk in W.T. Grants. I worked 20 hours a week after school and evenings and did some register work. In those days, prices were on the tags. The cashier put the amount in and totaled the amount of sale including figuring out the sales tax and manually adding it into the total charge. Customers handed the cashier cash and the cashier had to figure out the change, counting it to herself as she removed it from the drawer and counting it back to the customer. Cashiers had to go to the office and get their “drawer” for their shift and hand the drawer back in when the shift was done. Shortages were a “no-no” and a cashier could be penalized if her draw came up short because she miscounted change. Cashiers had to be “bonded” in the event of theft or lost money. One thing for certain, cashiers became very proficient in basic math skills.
 Today, as I scan and hit buttons that do all the brain work for me, I think about how many aspects of our lives are managed by barcodes: store coupons, credit cards, preferred customer cards, bank accounts, identification cards, and even medical services. Try to get through a day without swiping something into a machine that calculates our vital statistics. Heck…we can even open up a charge account by simply putting in our social security into a service pad. Yikes. 
UPC” stands for Universal Product Code. They were originally created to help grocery stores speed up the checkout process and keep better track of inventory, but the system quickly spread to all other retail products because it was so successful.
“UPCs originate with a company called the Uniform Code Council (UCC). A manufacturer applies to the UCC for permission to enter the UPC system. The manufacturer pays an annual fee for the privilege. In return, the UCC issues the manufacturer a six-digit manufacturer identification number and provides guidelines on how to use it.”
I must admit, I like the convenience of less brain activity, especially as I age. But I can’t help but wonder what else I’ve lost in the process besides the ability to add and subtract.  


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