This past week at the Austin airport I was trying to grab a fast lunch with decent coffee without have to do so in two places. So I approached a wide open counter advertising java, with glass cages filled with all sorts of baked goods.
Without having heard even what I wanted, the fast food employee told me that “the machine is broken” and she could not make specialty coffees. I said, no problem, “I only drink my coffee black and I am here for a sandwich.” I added, “I don’t mind waiting,” as I saw the employee balancing a coffee filter the size of an elephant condom with freshly ground coffee. In what was for me a lifetime first, the employee made clear to me in no uncertain terms that I should go “down there, they have hot sandwiches.”
I thought, I am glad I don’t own this business and I am certain this employee is glad I don’t own this business, and walked until I found a Schlotzky’s “down there.”
This is where I had my second adventure in fast food (you see, I don’t frequent fast food places much). I saw only one person at one register and upon closer investigation I found myself before a kiosk. In another lifetime-first involving fast food, I stood before a screen and was able to easily, without any training, touch a screen to make sure I got sourdough bread, no red onion, but everything else, to build my own sandwich. A swipe of the credit card, and I was done ordering. Amazing!
As I stood and waited among other travelers for my number to be called out, I discussed with a stranger-intellectual my mixed feelings about ordering from a kiosk. On one hand, it was amazingly efficient; on the other hand, when I looked at the kiosks I saw for each one a person that was out of a job. My fellow Schlotzky’s consumer-in-waiting told me, “At McDonald’s they are trying out robots to make the sandwiches.”
Here are my concerns. What will happen to the people who are no longer needed to work in fast food? I don’t see them as being re-trained for a “higher skill level” job and I don’t see the vast majority of them going to college and getting college degrees. I foresee the displaced fast food workers going on the dole. There will be no jobs for them in society, period.
So while we are all getting affordable sandwiches compliments of computers and machines, we will pay the displaced workers and create a new kind of “leisure underclass.” Corporate welfare will be shifted to governmental welfare. And let’s make no mistake about it–we will all be paying for the extinguished fast food workers in the name of progress.
That scenario does not make me enjoy my fast food.