Column Date 2005-12-14

The 'no-service' economy

Yesterday it suddenly occurred to me that I not only pay over two bucks for a gallon of gas, I do all the work by pumping it myself. And cleaning my windshield. And checking my tires.

I now pay $1.50 to get my own money from my bank, and I do all the work myself, punching numbers and codes into an ATM machine.

A major airline just asked me to check myself in using their new computers; if I want something to eat, they politely suggest I bring my own food along.

And at Home Depot, they want me to scan in all my purchases myself, run my credit card through myself, and then pack everything up myself. There’s nary a human being in sight.

What’s going on here?

It’s Economics 101: companies have finally figured out they can make tons more money by having their customers do all the work.

I call it the “no service economy.” And they’ve talked us all into going along with it.

What can we expect next? A brief look into the future reveals a myriad of schemes to put us all to work:

The Do-It-Yourself Hernia Operation. Hernia operations are usually a matter of stitching together parts of your body wall that have torn apart. Now, honestly, how hard does that sound? Modern, computer-driven sewing and embroidery machines can be programmed to do almost anything. Add a few sterile needles, some appropriate pain-killers, a special rental room (with mirrors) at a local hospital and you’re good to go.

Grind your own eyeglasses. Machines that grind glass are a commodity these days. And it’s only a matter of time before new computers and software let you select your frames and type your doctor’s prescription into the machine. Seconds later, a perfect pair of glasses pops out, designer case and all. Your glasses will be untouched by human hands.

The Virtual Dental Checkup. Most of us go to the dentist once or twice a year to have our teeth checked and cleaned, and usually have no major problems. With this new scheme,
a ‘mouth-blueprint’ is taken and all this information is embedded on a special credit card.

Swipe your card in the “Virtual Dental Technician” and this computerized, robotic machine will make sure that every millimeter of your teeth and gums are checked, scaled and cleaned. It’s all automatic, and painless. Plus, you have a choice of soothing male or female voices telling you to “spit out please,” and reminding you to floss.

I must mention, however, that there are some areas that don’t seem to appeal to the ‘Do-It-Yourself’ crowd in America. Democracy, for example, calls for people to actually participate in the democratic process by learning about the issues, then voting. Most people are too busy to do either, so a private club of essentially lifetime senators and representatives stay in Washington and make all the major decisions for the rest of us.

This is the ultimate “no service” scam, of course, and it costs us all a horrendous amount of money. Maybe if we did it ourselves, we’d actually revolutionize our country.

©2005 Peter Tannen