Customer Training in the Age of Digital Efficiency

My local supermarket recently installed the new self checkout stations and as I stood in line waiting for a real human being to process my purchase the old fashioned way I had the time to reflect on what these new wonders of technology represent. I can appreciate that for many consumers these automated checkouts will have a genuine appeal as they won’t have to waste their time standing in line with their milk and bread waiting for the cashier (remember them) to total up their bill. On the other hand, the trend towards automation in the retail business seems to dehumanize the commercial process and puts one more layer of distance between the multinational mega-corporations that own these grocery chains and the people that shop in their stores.

Retail Transactions in the 21st Century

self checkout station

self checkout station

Unless you live in a remote part of the earth where everything isn’t bar coded, or under a rock (or both), then you will be familiar with the process. When you come to pay for your purchases you are confronted by a bank of screens with all of the scales, bags and barcode readers are lined up at the front end of the store with a single attendant overseeing their operation. This person is there to offer assistance to customers that have difficulties with operating the technology and to make sure that every potato gets weighed. Obviously, if your customers are sufficiently trained in operating the machines then they will require less help and they should be able to process themselves more efficiently. This, in turn, reduces the need for the supermarket to employ checkout staff as now the customers themselves have made the job redundant.

In my mind, this raises two separate, yet equally important issues. Most obviously this is a move by the plutocrats that largely control the food chain in Western civilization in the modern day to reduce their costs by employing fewer people. It really was a stroke of genius to think of transferring the responsibility for totting up the bill to the guy who is also forking out the cash. Of course this stratagem requires that the consumer is properly trained in using the machines and indoctrinated with the philosophy that makes using them more appealing that dealing with another person face to face while you pay for your goods. While this may appeal when you are just dashing in to top up on condoms, vodka and Kool Aid, do you really want to be trained by a corporation in the correct operation of their latest labor saving technology?

The Consumer in Its Natural Habitat

While passing through the checkout to pay for my potatoes and carrots (and resisting the temptation to throw a Mars Bar and a Red Bull in my shopping basket in the checkout line) I had the chance to observe the other customers’ reaction to the new machines in their familiar supermarket. Older people walk right past them like they aren’t there and are totally disinterested in even finding out what they are for (which I found interesting- I wonder how many of them went home and posted to Facebook that the local Woolworths had new machines?). Customers that are obviously familiar with them roll straight through the checkout like there’s nobody else in the place and disappear without a whisper.

at the checkout

Consumers in the wild

The most interesting customers to watch are the ones that see the long line at the express lane (which is still the same as it was before the new machines) and look with trepidation at their other speedy alternative. Armed with their all purpose credit/debit card they launch into the uncertainty of self service. The questions that arise are painted on their faces as their inner voice protests at its natural disinclination for learning how to operate a new digital device. The first inhibition to arise is driven by their inexperience- Will I look like an idiot in front of the whole world? (at least those members of the global population that are present). Will I charge myself too much for my broccoli? Will I look like I have put those M&Ms in the bag without paying for them? (smile at official supervisor of self checkout area reassuringly). Will I feel as satisfied after my purchase?

Personally, I have avoided these new machines simply because I am too lazy to be bothered with checking out my own groceries. The whole idea of having to weigh turnips and onions is too much of a hassle to go through just to be a few minutes quicker through the checkout. I also like the cashiers at my local purveyor of generic brands- I have been going to the same supermarket just about every day for years and it is a nice diversion from a busy day to exchange meaningless pleasantries while I exchange my hard earned cash for my dinner. Judging by the length of the line at the last attended cash register while the new machines stand unused, their touch screens blinking aimlessly while they await their next self service oriented customer,  I am not alone.

Obviously there hasn’t been the level of acceptance among the customers that has been required to justify the automation of the sales process. The managers who beamed as the efficient new machines were installed by ghostlike technicians who whisked them in in the dead of night and spent a couple of days unobtrusively calibrating them for maximum profits. These beaming smiles have turned to frustrated frowns as they watched customers line up for the human touch, looking across their once familiar supermarket at the new intruders with eyes like a horse that’s seen a snake. It seemed as if the integration of the new technology into the sales funnel and the necessary indoctrination of the client base were going to be more difficult than it first appeared that they would be.

My Close Encounter with the New Technology

Grab it & Run

Where has all the money gone?

The stalemate at the cash register between customer and machine obviously had to be moved on and as I stood in line with my chicken drumsticks and tins of expensive cat food pondering whether my personal economy could still support my tobacco habit, I was approached by one of the managers who kindly offered to put my purchases through the new fangled cash register ma-bobs for me. As I have been a regular customer for a number of years the management of the local food barn recognize me at least well enough to know what brand of cigarettes I smoke and so this led me to believe that I was a targeted customer for a personal introduction to the pleasures, and convenience, of using their 21st Century innovation on the age old practice of retail.

As she led me to the automated area of the checkout process the manager looked at me and I could see that she understood at a glance that I had absolutely no intention of paying any attention to the process at all. I like to believe that the frown that this evoked on her very serious face was intended for her overlords rather than myself (she has, up to this point, always been lovely to deal with). When we arrived at the shining new machines the area was populated only by ourselves and a couple of truant schoolboys that were paying for Chup-a-Chups while walking out with their pockets filled with Skittles.

The young manager looked at them and sighed before smiling patiently at me and indicating the place where I was to put my basket full of goods for processing by the new system. As I complied I stepped back a prepared to be amazed. I sensed that she wanted me to be a more active participant in the process and perhaps I could even say something like; “Wow! I had no idea that it was so simple. I will use this every time that I visit your emporium henceforth. This will make my life so much better.”

Unfortunately, none of that happened. Instead, I stood grinning like an idiot as she scanned my generic packet of raw sugar and weighed the beans that I had selected for my dinner. The whole demonstration broke down completely when she mistakenly selected Navel Oranges while weighing my Imperial mandarin and she had to go through a complicated process to remove it from the transaction. Still and all, she took this reversal well and resigned herself to the possibility that I would never learn how to checkout my own celery and quick cooking oats and completed the transaction with good grace.

After paying with my digi-dollars in the usual fashion, complete with being asked if I possess a loyalty card and whether my cash reserves needed a top up, I felt a bit guilty for having so easily thwarted the gambit. After all, she was just another foot soldier slogging it out in the trenches at the behest of her Fearless Leaders. Still, all that I could manage was a smile and a heartfelt thanks which seemed small consolation for the long day of similar exchanges that she undoubtedly saw in her own future.

The Cyber Voice of Public Opinion

moses

Moses goes online old school style

The encounter made me wonder about what the world really thought of the automation of the purchasing process in this way. Obviously, the supermarket manager demographic was going to rate it pretty bloody highly, but the facts are that this is a very tiny subset of society. What I wondered was how was the new technology going down with the man on the street and the busy soccer mum? Of course I went to the blogosphere where, if there is an opinion (or more) to be had on any subject, it is certain to have been voiced.

The first thing that I noticed was how good a job the cash register companies did of blitzing the interwebz with their messages of positive reinforcement. Apparently you can buy popularity on the internet if you have the bucks- who’d-a-thunk it? The SERPs are loaded with industry content that extols the virtues of the automatic payment system and even the images SERPs aren’t loaded up with the usual derogatory memes that are a standard part of every activist’s Facebook Timeline. The imbalance suggested that the cash register manufacturers had spent up big to make sure that they bury any dissenting voices under a mountain of positive reinforcement. Like every other new major technology that hits the market, this one is worth a lot of money and nobody wants the online conspiracy theorists and socialist bleeding hearts to spoil the party.

A bit of digging around in the online media sites and in the bowels of the subversive blogosphere turned up a couple of interesting facts. The first was that not all supermarket managers thing that self serve checkouts are all that great! (I know!) It seems that customers just aren’t as efficient at putting their purchases through the barcode scanners and weighing their cabbages as a pro cashier (no! really?). One major American supermarket chain is actually removing the self checkout units from their stores in order to improve their sales volumes. At the same time, their main competitor is planning on installing 10,000 units in their stores in the next year alone. The mega-corporation that manufactures the machines estimates that they will sell 60,000 of them every year by 2018.

The supermarket demographic do have a voice in this conversation, saying that it is difficult to find people to fill the cashier jobs that they already have and this is the best solution. Officials in the retail industry have been quick to join the dots and say that it isn’t their fault that they can’t find people to work for them and so they aren’t really getting rid of any jobs. In reality, I think that they have trouble finding experienced staff and the automatic cash registers are cheaper than training kids to do the job (the self checkout units never want a day off either). Of course there is no mention of what the long term goals of integrating this technology are but it is fairly easy to see the broad strokes of it even in its infancy.

Retail Service- Then & Now

checkout girl

Will this be the only chick we see at a checkout?

Many years ago, in the Dark Ages of the 1960s, I remember that the supermarket used to employ somebody to put your groceries into a bag for you while you watched the cashier add up your bill. This archaic system was streamlined and the poor old box boy lost his after school job as cashiers had to double as packers as well. Other chains offered cheap groceries in exchange for using their DIY packing system. Soon, we had forgotten the box boy and, with the introduction of laser scanners and digital transactions the process was speeded up even further with computers tracking the scan rates of the cashiers to ensure that they met efficiency standards. Gradually, the digital technology became the accepted norm and cashiers no longer even needed basic math skills as the electronic register told them how much change they need to make. As the skill level dropped from being a personal representative of the business who filled the vitally important point of sale role the cashier became just another replaceable cog in the corporate machine.

Having negated the need to put much of a human face on their business through the monopolization of the grocery markets and by desensitizing their customers to the digital beep of the barcode reader, the next step is to remove the cashier altogether. This isn’t altogether surprising as most of these low paid positions are probably going to face becoming automated by the march of technological evolution. What is disturbing about this is the plan by the corporate overlords to make being trained essential to being a customer.

I don’t feel the need to be trained by my local supermarket chain in how I can be a more efficient customer and, in all likelihood, people of my generation aren’t the primary target of this technology. It is the schoolboys with their pockets full of shoplifted candy who will become the integrated customers of tomorrow. It is probably worth the cost of a few packets of candy to invest it the education of their young customers.

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Facebook Occultists

Since I first ventured into cyberspace I have come into contact with a great many occultists and it has made me aware that far more people are interested magick than I might have imagined. In the 1980s when I first took an interest in the Dark Arts the world of occultism was generally secretive and purposefully obscure. The web has changed all of that.

Once impossible to acquire books of magick can be downloaded making the Wisdom of the Ancients freely available to anyone with internet connectivity and a PDF reader. In addition to this, modern students of magick seem to be an exceedingly literate bunch and they produce articles, books and blogs for online consumption at a rate that has never before been possible (myself among them at AnkhafnaKhonsu Esoterica- pardon my plug).

This has been a revolution is the once eremitic world of magick and it has spawned a generation of online occultists of different descriptions. The place where these post modern magi meet to swap incantations in the 21st Century is Facebook. An ardent seeker can find hundreds of open groups on the social site that have the word “magick” or “witchcraft” in their names and the variations on these make for tens of thousands of groups, some small and other with thousands of members, that are devoted to the discussion of the occult.

Of course, among these legions of occultists there are many very serious students but they are generally hidden in a crowd of less than serious magi. As a keen occultist as well as a dedicated cyber-geek I spend a considerable amount of time engaging with people through these sorts of groups and while I do find many very well informed students of magick to chat with, it is the occult personalities that really make my travels through the occult cyberspace truly enlightening and entertaining. Over time I have gotten into the habit of classifying the more entertaining occultists that I find on the interwebz into some amusing species.

beardsley

The Enterer on the Cyber Threshold

The Neophyte

This poor soul has strayed into the dark part of the web in search of guidance. As they take the place of the Enterer on the Cyber-Threshold they are confronted by an overwhelming choice of disciplines, references to obscure books and a cast of thousands who have Facebook nom de plumes like Frater Antichrist and Lady Lillith Babalon. All of this just muddies that already murky waters of the occult even further and if they manage to summon up the pluck to actually post a question to the group like “How do I do XYZ with magick?” they either receive 50 conflicting answers or an imperiously hidden master peers down his digital nose and belittles them for their ignorance.

The Disciple

For the Neophyte that does succeed in finding the Hidden Masters online they may evolve into the Disciple. These devoted acolytes have found the One True Path and they proceed to clog up the social newsfeed with meaninglessly obscure, cut and paste posts of quotes from their Chosen Master. Many followers of the cult of Crowleyanity fall into this class but they aren’t alone.

magician

It all looks good on paper

The Scholar

Cyberscholars abound on the interwebz and the occult has more than its fair share. These intrepid students have read all of the books but they never so much as waved a wand in anger. This gives them an academic opinion that is rarely matched by experience. Often indecisive (usually about what kind of magick power they want to wield first), they may lack the motivation or the courage to take the first step on the Path and so they restrict their efforts to making an informed commentary on the efforts of others.

Samuel Liddell MacGregor-Mathers

The Source of the Hidden Mysteries: Samuel Liddell MacGregor-Mathers

The Keeper of the Hidden Mysteries

This is the “official” occult sphere in cyberspace. These duly authorized magi have taken on the onerous task of being the official face of various occult societies. Much of this authority is based upon their belief that they have exclusive access to the secrets of magick- you know, the stuff that has never been published and that can’t be found on the web (as if such a thing actually exists). Often the motivation behind these bastions of the last of the ancient lines of these traditional occult orders is the dissemination of those very exclusive secrets for the not inconsiderable membership fees that they charge to admit you to their very ancient and honorable lineages.

anton lavey

The Ultimate Occult Look

The Occultist

This is the uber chic, post modern student of the magick arts. These guys can take on a variety of forms from the unaffected Chaos magician who rushes in where angels fear to tread to the serious student of the Golden Dawn or the Exorcist who conjures the 72 infernal spirits of the Goetia in his garage on weekends. This serious minded mage has a laisser-aller attitude to Magick Black and White and are quick to point out the natural fallacy of the good vs. evil debate. After all, White Magick is a powerful force but Black Magick is so much more fun.

dracos dark mark

Satan’s legions are signed up and ready to go

The Antichrist

These rejectionist occultists have come to realize that Jesus doesn’t want them for a sunbeam and so they have chosen to go over to the opposition. Anton LaVey made a fortune out of appealing to this kind of anti-establishmentarian with his Satanic Bible and his acolytes are still alive and kicking today. Christian bashing is a pretty popular pastime among occultists at the best of times and it would seem that if the Dark Lord is going to begin assembling his armies for the Armageddon that he will be able to find them all in Facebook’s thriving Satanic community. At the moment they are preparing the way for the ascendancy of Lucifer by posting antichristian memes on their timelines.

Gandalf

WWGD?

The Wizard

These inspired Middle Earthers are the shamans of cyberspace. They are on a spiritual quest to find the most obscure ancient practices so that they can dispense their Wisdom via a snappy WordPress site that is liberally decorated with runes and ancient seals for a genuine Tolkienesque look. Fervent meme posters, when they are confronted with one of life’s difficult decisions they are wont to ask themselves; “What would Gandalf do?” (WWGD?).

The Great Mage

This is the ultimate online Magus who claims all manner of unattainable grades in obscure magickal orders and yet has no demonstrable grasp on the basics of magick whatsoever. They enter online debates just to prove that they are right about everything and that nobody knows as much about magick as they do. When they are called out for being obviously stupid they make up for this minor shortcoming by claiming that they have been trained in the true method of high magick by their Hidden Masters and the rest of us can go and fuck ourselves.

Glinda the Good Witch of the North

Never any naughty magick

The White Witch

Sitting just inside the doorway of the great online occult emporium, swathed in clouds of fragrant patchouli scented incense and adorned with crystals and pentagrams, these purveyors of “good” magick see the internet as a marketing opportunity. They have erected their digital gypsy tent in cyberspace where they will read your Tarot cards, your palms and the bumps on your head in exchange for crossing their palm with silver. In an effort to maintain a non-threatening online profile that is designed to appeal to a target audience of bored suburban housewives, they post random spells in their timelines as proof of their natural powers over the secret energies of magick- but only nice magick. Never any of that nasty black magick. That’s the Satanists.

a coven of witches

Getting their story straight over a cup of herbal tea

The Traditionalists

The Fundamentalists of the occult world invariably belong to some obscure Tradition that can date its origins back to when Moses had a job as a stenographer at God’s Mt Sinai branch. For a more organic fundamentalism there are the many species of traditional witches who, in stark contrast to the White Witch are rarely commercially minded. Either way, these hard line believers take great pains to find obscure connections to the Knights Templar or to prove that Gerald Gardner was a big wheel in European OTO in support of their claims to having the quality magick. There is a heavy accent on oral flavored teachings and an insistence that unless you are invited to join their elitist group it isn’t possible to see the Truth and a propensity to play the debate winning “if I have to explain it to you then you will never understand it” card.

Jesus

I got your back buddy!

The Messiah

Here we are at the end of the world and someone has to step up if we are to survive the Apocalypse. These intrepid souls have been called to the Light by their special mission and they see the signs of the Great Averse One in everything. It’s okay though, because they are here to redeem the world. They have usually stuck their fingers in the occult light socket and gotten a little too much juice at some point and, combined with their meth habit it has really lit up their aura. They appear in the newsfeed with strange messages connecting the arrangement at Stonehenge, the Illuminati and the latest G20 summit in a sign that the Four Horsemen are mounting up and the dead will soon be rising from their graves. It’s okay if you don’t believe them as they will either save you in spite of yourself or damn you to hell with the rest of the infidels. After all, its hard work starting your own religion and there’s no time to argue semantics.

This list is hardly comprehensive but, then again, I haven’t hunted on all seven cyber continents yet either and there may be species out there that I am yet to discover. What about you, gentle reader? What mythical creatures have you met while riding the wild unicorn in the magickal world of cyberspace?

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The Magick of Money

There’s no doubt that money is magick stuff. Possessing money gives you power over the world; your fellow men will be moved to do your will and all of the pleasures of life will be yours for the taking. Yet in itself it has no intrinsic value, its power is derived from the common belief in it and the knowledge that comes from the experience of using it to bend the world to your will.

This abstract conceptual symbol of concurrently held material value is a potent talisman of one of the most essential operations of magick that has yet been invented. By this potent magickal charm it is possible to turn one thing of value into any other thing of a relative value. So it is that the vast majority of us turn our labor into our daily bread. The actual operation may vary, its intricacies may require the skilled handling of an adept in some art in order to produce the value but the mechanism of the exchange of energies has remained constant for thousands of years.

Anywhere in the world salt is good to eat; anywhere in the world money is good to use. - Chinese Proverb

Devotion to the Dollar

Oscar Wilde

When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.

And yet, as familiar as this talisman is, regardless of how much we know of its magick power to move matter even most magicians don’t really understand how it works. It may seem that by accumulating large quantities of it that you can ensure your power to use it and thereby insure your future happiness. And so the pursuit of the almighty dollar consumes the many, and their inability to hang onto any meaningful amounts of cash makes them suspicious of the few.

There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor.- Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism

Nothing makes you think about money more than not having any. Perhaps this is because having money makes it much easier to occupy your time. As a consequence, those without it also spend a lot of time thinking about how to get their hands on some. Once they have gotten taken possession of the coveted cash, rather than finding fulfillment in the success of the operation, they begin to worry about how to get more. It seems that money is the one thing that we can never really get enough of. After all; there always something more to buy with it.

Money, get away. Get a good job with more pay and your O.K.
Money, it’s a gas. Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.
New car, caviar, four star daydream, think I’ll buy me a football team.

- Roger Waters, Money, Dark Side of the Moon

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Posted in Aleister Crowley, Book of the Law, D G Mattichak jr, gold, Magick, new age, spirituality, Thelema | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Color of Money

Australia is yet again in the process of deciding who will be our overlords for the next four years and so the jockeying for the political high ground has taken on a renewed vigor as the prize is now clearly visible for all to see. Neither side has a particularly sound fiscal record with the incumbent lefties having spent all of the money that was in the bank and the hoping-to-soon-be übermenschen of the right simply planning more taxes and more service cuts.

Both sides are secure in the knowledge that whatever happens the expensive plans that they present during their meaningless electioneering will be financed because the banks will let them print as much money as they want to spend. The fiscal projections of the rival parties has very little to do with how much money they possess, that is relatively immaterial. Their projections are based on how much they can reasonably overheat the economy before there will be too great a burden on the people to sustain.

Bucks for Burgers

How big is your Mac?

How big is your Mac?

A recent report by the Deutsche Bank1 indicated that Australia has become one of the most expensive places in the developed world in which to live. The article hints that this may have something to do with the strong Australian dollar- in the cross rates against the value of US and European currencies. It then goes on to list the variance in value of a number of domestic commodities as if the strength of the Australian dollar accounts for the increased price of a Big Mac down under2.

According to figures a Big Mac in Australia is worth an average of $4.75 which at today’s cross rates is US $4.90. In contrast, a genuine American version of this culinary masterpiece purchased in downtown USA will set you back US $4.373. This is a clear indication that the Australian dollar has less domestic spending power no matter how strong it is on the international money markets’ cross rates. While this is a rule of thumb measure, when the same pattern is repeated across the whole range of domestic consumer commodities it becomes very compelling evidence of gross fiscal mismanagement on the part of both sides of the Houses of Parliament.

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Posted in Australia, Banks, central banks, D G Mattichak jr, Economy, Fiat Money, gold, newspapers, Scumbags | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Being Mindful on the Path to Presence

The avowed objective of magick and other similar spiritual disciplines is to become self aware. The maxim “Know Thyself” from Apollo’s temple at Delphi has become the catch cry of the New Age. Although it has a distinct historical connection to Hermetic magick, this fundamental goal of the mystic has even been placed at the top of the list of the Thirteen Goals of a Witch by Scott Cunningham in his book Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner1. As a part of such popular spiritual movements it has become a part of the spiritual language of the Age of Aquarius but while it is commonly cited there is rarely any mention of how this self knowledge can be obtained.

Gnosis

To understand how to become develop this knowledge of self it is first necessary to grasp what that knowledge is of. There are two methods of knowing that are possible. Firstly there is the knowledge that is inferred, or acquired indirectly through the reports of others. The second kind of knowing is that which is empirical and acquired through direct acquaintance with the subject. As we only really have the opportunity to become directly acquainted with our own self, the knowledge of it must be acquired by direct participation in examining what constitutes self. This is referred to as Gnosis.

Gnosis, the common Greek noun for knowledge, is used in an occult or spiritual context to indicate a spiritual knowledge or, more correctly, a religion of knowledge. The object of this is to free man from the restraints of earthly existence through insight into an essential relationship of the self, as soul or spirit, with the supramundane. Thus the experience of true gnosis is theurgic.

“Man, know thyself … and thou shalt know the gods.”- Proverb from the Inner Ancient Temple of Luxor

To Know

The Powers of the Sphinx are the four fundamental skills that must be acquired by the magician if he will wield his magickal armory in his assault upon the heavens. As the object of that magick is to directly apprehend the influence of the divine it follows that the first step is to understand the instrument by which that divinity is apprehended. Plato explains it clearly in Phaedrus when he has Socrates explain the need for beginning with a clear understanding of yourself before progressing to make an interpretation of the universe.

Socrates

Socrates

I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things. And so I dismiss these matters and accepting the customary belief about them, as I was saying just now, I investigate not these things, but myself, to know whether I am a monster more complicated and more furious than Typhon or a gentler and simpler creature, to whom a divine and quiet lot is given by nature.- Plato, Phaedrus

The knowledge that Plato is referring to isn’t the superficial awareness of existence that is driven by wants and desires but the identity that is behind those motivating forces. The gnosis that leads to freedom is a deeper understanding of the existence that is behind our apprehensions. This begins with understanding that the world that we perceive with the senses isn’t the reality that it appears to be.

The ‘world’ of experience is not given in experience: it is constructed by thought from the data of sense.- C. I. Lewis2

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Posted in Aleister Crowley, D G Mattichak jr, Magick, new age, paganism, religion, spirituality, theurgy | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments