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Self-checkout machines could be making Americans lonelier


They may be in the market for friends.

While many Americans have become accustomed to scanning their groceries while wearing headphones, this practice may be contributing to the loneliness epidemic.

Self-checkouts account for nearly 40% of pay lanes at US grocery chains, according to Catalina Marketing.

And more than 4 in 5 (84%) Americans report they like using self-service kiosks at stores, with 66% claiming they would choose a self-checkout lane over cashing out with a human cashier, a recent survey from PlayUSA, an online gaming site, found.

Toni Antonucci, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, explained to the Los Angeles Times this week that “weak ties” — described as warm, low-stakes relationships, like the ones between cashiers and repeat customers — are a critical tool for maintaining emotional well-being, especially later in life as social circles shrink.


66% of Americans prefer a self-checkout lane over cashing out with a human cashier.
Shutterstock

“It’s somebody who makes you feel important in their world,” she said. “Somebody who makes you feel human.”

Nevertheless, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the number of cashiers nationwide is expected to shrink by 10% from 2021 to 2031 — a loss of roughly 335,000 jobs.

In 2020, Amazon unveiled its first Amazon Go Grocery store, which relies more on technology than human workers.

The store uses cameras and sensors to detect the products customers pick off the shelves and emails them a receipt, allowing shoppers to pay for a bagful of groceries without any human assistance.

The concept is a larger public version of the Amazon Go store that opened to employees in 2016.

As the world continues to become more reliant on technology, experts are sounding the alarm about detrimental impacts on people’s physical and mental health.


Customers use self service checkout machines to pay for groceries
An unsocial 14% said they would wait for a self-service lane even if a human cashier was available.
Shutterstock

The April PlayUSA poll found that more than 7 in 10 (71%) of the 1,001 Americans surveyed said human-run checkouts take longer, while 60% admitted they simply don’t want to engage in awkward small talk.

An unsocial 14% said they would wait in a self-service lane even if a human cashier was available.

There was a generational divide, with 84% of Gen Z and 76% of millennials preferring technology over human interaction, compared with only 57% of Gen X and 46% of baby boomers.


Young woman with baby paying with self checkout
Nearly 40% of pay lanes at US grocery chains are self-checkout.
Shutterstock

While a staggering 89% of people believe tech has made their daily lives easier and 62% like that technology is replacing face-to-face interactions, many admitted that dealing with so much technology has negatively affected mental health.

About 67% say technology has made it harder for people to make meaningful connections, 75% think tech-based interactions have led to a decrease in social skills, and 68% believe it’s caused less empathy.



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