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Self-Service Helps Serve Thyself

By Donna Britt
Friday, December 17, 2004; Page B01

It was in a newly remodeled Giant supermarket that I realized the insidiousness of the "you do it" culture.

Dozens of scowling people were queued up to pay for groceries. The lines in which actual clerks were ringing up purchases were ten-deep. Those lines manned by automated checkout devices -- which require a customer to find the bar code on their Cap'n Crunch, wave it across a pricing screen and place the box on a conveyor belt to be bagged by said customer -- were two-deep.

I'd recently confronted such an apparatus at Home Depot, and the thing refused to scan my purchase until a salesperson -- remember them? -- unlocked it. These contraptions, I realized, weren't time-saving conveniences, but an evil plot by big business to replace inconvenient humans requiring attention, health benefits and the occasional paycheck with machines.

These glitch-prone devices are the devil, I decided. I wouldn't use them.

But I was tired. The other lines were so long. My fourth-grade son was hungry.

Cursing silently, I rang up my groceries my damself.

But it's Christmas, time for forgiveness and gift-giving. So I'm offering you, dear reader, the present that came wrapped in that annoying moment. It's a life-motto I co-opted from a smart friend that describes life's greatest truth, words guaranteed to get you through good times and bad:

Do it your damself.

Admittedly, DIYD sounds harsh, unrelated to the festive holiday spirit. But trust me: "Do it your damself" isn't just a slogan to live by.

It represents the highest ideals known to humankind.

Increasingly, ours is a DIYD culture. More and more businesses are asking -- or demanding -- that we provide ourselves with services they once offered freely. So we check schedules and seating availability for our own plane, train and bus trips before booking them -- and print our own boarding passes.

We grind our own coffee, measure our blood pressure, check our bank accounts online and even clean our own windshields while we fill our tanks. We daily "talk" with recorded voices that instruct which word or button we must use to transfer us to another pseudo-person that might, if we're lucky, answer our question.

We're doing it our own selves -- which isn't always bad. Doing stuff ourselves can save us time and money and help us monitor our purchases, cash flow and health.

But doing so much ourselves also decreases our already-diminishing contact with our neighbors. If over the years I'd been utilizing automated checkout at Giant rather than interacting with employees, I never would have known about Angie's warmth, Damon's sports fixation or Ambrose's grief. And I'd be the poorer.

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