Back in the saddle after a week of vacation, I’ve landed in Washington, D.C. for a quick couple of days. I will make the rounds and see folks at U.S. Apple, United Fresh, FDA, USDA and more, I hope.

I left the furnace that was Kansas, and I’m hoping I didn’t bring that kind of heat out East. And slim hopes they are.

It is hot, I say.  How hot is it? Not as hot as it used to be, that’s for sure.

Can you imagine life without air conditioning and electricity? How about you without a refrigerator and a freezer?

Nadene Albrecht, who grew up with my mom and dad near Russell, Kansas, reflected about those not-so-long-ago days in a recent column:

Experiencing some of the warmest weather in years, don't we all find ourselves wondering how people survived before the days of electricity?  Before fans, ice, central heating and cooling.  Was it as hot then as it is now or are we just spoiled by all the wonders and conveniences of today’s modern world and find it necessary to constantly complain about the temperature?  Are we just plain PUNY from sitting in air conditioned offices and buildings, in cabs of trucks and cars with the AC blasting into your face, even missing all the torture of wheat harvesting in years past when there were no air conditioned combines units or tractors?

Nadene’s father was an iceman in the early 1940s, delivering blocks of ice for farms in western Kansas that did not have electricity to keep food cool.  That simple luxury had not yet come to every home.

When it did, the need for the iceman vanished.  But not all human contact can be replaced with technology, it seems.

One topic that has been active this week on the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group is about the halting advance of technology at the checkout lane.

With the news that some chains are trimming back self-service lanes in favor of human cashiers, I asked the group if they preferred human tellers/cashier or automated check-out.

The responses were definitely skewed toward a friendly face;

 

One said:

I avoid the self check out, as someone referenced Home Depot, half the time you need assistance to check out. As the systems improve, I may be more likely to use. However, in a time when employment is an issue for many, I would rather work with a person assuming the customer service is better than the self check out.

 

Another remarked:

In my area, N-E from Melbourne Australia, there is only 1 of the big supermarket chains offering this self checkout and only 2 others I know of within an hour’s drive away. At the one in my area it is usual to see people queuing in the teller line while the self serve is vacant. Technology wise we are years behind but I think it is what the people want (out in this area anyway). I personally will always look for a friendly faced teller or if in a hurray the shortest queue. Phone communication with a computer is bad enough. Keep it human and keep humans in work.

 

One offered:

I used to think I would like cold, impersonal automatons but then they replaced them with ATMs. I like a person as one does experience the inevitable snafu at check-out where the logic of the machine will not let you progress to check-out because you "placed unscanned item in bagging area". Bring back the human touch.

 

But not all were ready to dispense with the self-serve concept:

 

Do I sense that someone is fighting a trend? The self-checkout will become better. The Japanese have been doing it for more than 20 years. I'm sure it will become part of the US culture before they go on to the next generation of consumer efficiency.

 

Tk: So the world of rural electrification and refrigeration eliminated the job of the iceman, no matter how personable that man was. But it seems a checkout lane with an automated teller is still no match for a friendly face, and there is something comforting in that.