When only machines have jobs, what then do we do with people?

During a recent out of town trip, I drove from my motel to a supermarket down the street— just gonna pop in, pick up two or three items, be out in a jif. Hardy-har.

In the first place, no two supermarkets, even if they’re the same company, are laid out the same, so I had to traipse around the entire store to find what I needed (or for one item, to not find what I needed).

Mission more or less accomplished, I headed to the checkout area, where there was one — count it, one — checkout lane in operation, with at least a dozen heaping shopping carts queued up for that lone checker-outer-person. The 15-items-and-under express lanes, one of which I’d counted on using, were deserted, “Closed” signs mockingly glaring at me from idle scanner belts.

No way was I going to endure an interminable wait in the lone checkout lane to buy just three items. (This was not 10 p.m., mind you, but going-home-from-work time, when one would think there would’ve been multiple checkers on duty.)

I momentarily thought of, as I’d observed a couple of customers doing in disgust, just abandoning my would-be purchases and stalking out of the store. But, I already had time invested in this quest; no way was I going to quit!

OK, you’ve probably already guessed the answer to my dilemma. While the lone checker was struggling with the line of less-than-happy customers with heaping carts, a gaggle of others were checking their lesser purchases at the bank of U-Scan stations. Which I did, rather expeditiously, all the while muttering imprecations against the evil gods of technology.

Although I can manage self-checkout systems with no problem (well, OK, produce items are sometimes a challenge), I have resolutely refused to use them because I know in my heart of hearts that the systems are not, as store propaganda proclaims, “for your shopping convenience,” but rather yet another way to eliminate wage-paying jobs.

While supermarket checkers are probably on the bottom end of the wage scale, the pay they earn is nonetheless money used to support themselves and/or help support a family — not a rocket science job, but one offering that person gainful employment that might otherwise not exist.

And therein lies, at the most elemental level, yet another example of the dilemma confronting our society as we plunge headlong into a world that is increasingly using technology/automation to eliminate, insofar as possible, any need for humans.

From auto manufacturing to supermarkets to the corner gas station, and even to agriculture, jobs by the millions have vanished. They weren’t off-shored to China or India or Bangladesh — those people were replaced by technology/automation.

Granted, businesses need to cut costs wherever they can, as does agriculture, and one way to do that is to do away with as many breathing bodies as possible, replacing them with robots or self-serve technology that shifts the workload to the purchaser.

But, with all the yammering by presidential candidates now filling the airwaves about the need for jobs and job creation, nothing is said about this problem that is, kudzu-like, silently snaking across the business landscape.

When only machines have jobs, what then do we do with all those unneeded people?