Sunday, April 7, 2013

Forster's Machine Stops in the Real World

The "tipping point" (if I may use that expression) in E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" comes when people learn how to live with the mistakes the machine is making, because no one is left with the skills to diagnose or repair those problems. Over the last several weeks I have observed both customers and staff at my local Safeway cross this tipping point. This has involved several weeks of scarcity (if not lack) of inventory, which has now progressed to a pronounced reduction in the number of shopping carts. My guess is that Safeway is far from the only provider of goods and/or services to have gotten trapped in this state; and I would argue that the condition is the ultimate consequence of decisions made in the interest of shareholders, rather than those of either workers or customers. I toyed with the idea of placing my order online and arranging for delivery, but it did not take long to discover that the surcharges were prohibitive. However, one of the floor managers happened to mention that he, himself, did not shop at the branch I use; so, in the interest of gathering more data, I plan to check out another branch on my next trip. That alternative is closer but smaller, so I used to prefer to go to the larger branch where there were more choices. Since my grounds for preference have changed, I figure it is time to reconsider that alternative!

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