There’s danger lurking out there in Digital World and it threatens to change the social nature of an American institution — a shopping trip to the local super market.
Actually the danger right now is mostly in the north and northeast, those cold places up there. That’s where a scary cabal of computer geeks, marketing mavens and food marketeers is conspiring to turn easygoing saunters through the grocery store into a Blade Runner nightmare. OK, maybe only a Stepford Wives stroll.
Still, life as we know it will change.
Eventually. Unless housewives and single guys, seniors and teens, everybody who loads up on edibles, drinkables and dry goods refuse to be led into this cyber-space horror.
What it is, Microsoft, already ruler of the world, is about to deliver video computer screens on grocery carts, interactive monster machines that allegedly help a shopper shop.
These dastardly digital devils will be tested in about 200 ShopRite grocery stores in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and neighboring states for several months, starting this summer. There’s no plan (yet) to populate our nearest Publix or Winn-Dixie with these insidious entities. But if it works for ShopRite there, how long can we avoid this shoppers’ de-socialization scheme here?
In a nutshell, the computers take over most decisions involved in pushing your cart up and down the grocery aisles. What? you ask. What if you choose to stop in mid-aisle and hobnob with a friend who just returned here for the season? Forget about it.
What if you’ve figured out that some supermarkets are great places to meet girls, or boys?
You know it’s easier to strike up a conversation over the produce counter than, for example, in a library, where people used to feel honor-bound to whisper.
You can poke a rutabaga and ask the hottie nearby whether she knows any good recipes for rutabagas. I was going to use honeydew melons to make the example but, well, you know.
Anyway, today’s bright, cheery super markets, full of good smells and lots of stuff to touch, are perfect for food and fun because you can steer your cart, wobbly wheels and all, into uncharted territory.
The million watt lights made it mostly a safe place for singles to walk around without looking like stalkers.
With one eye on the Clamato juice shelf and the other on the cutie checking the calories in the V8, a person could shop and scope simultaneously.
Not to mention that some super markets are open way later than most libraries. And if you go at the right times, you can nibble and graze your way through free samples of everything from crab dip to Joint Juice (I think it’s for bad knees.) If these computerized, all-knowing, new fangled high-tech video carts catch on, we can kiss all that meeting, greeting and eating goodbye.
Your domineering, chip-driven cart will take over, knowing it has food sections to visit, bursting with products for you to grab and toss into your cart.
Who knows, eventually their cyber-satan owners may paint lane stripes in the aisles and put turn signals on the carts. And rear view mirrors.
In the test period, video screens on the carts will offer food ads and, using store loyalty cards, provide the shoppers’ individual grocery lists and suggest buying stuff the innocent consumer bought in previous visits.
The system even cues shoppers, such as, “Q-tips are coming up on your left, behind the Handi-Wipes” or, “Don’t forget to stock up on pigs in a blanket, 30-paces ahead near the lactose-free Pop Tarts.”
The technology allegedly allows mesmerized shoppers to scan the items they toss in their carts and see a running total.
As Associated Press technology writer Jessica Mintz put it, “The system uses radio-frequency identification to sense where the shopper’s cart is in the store. The data can help ShopRite and food makers understand shopping patterns. The technology can also be used to send certain advertisements to people at certain points — an ad for 50 cents off Oreos, for example, when a shopper enters the cookie aisle.”
In other words, it warns the groceries that you’re coming.
If a shy bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil did not want to be plucked from its shelf, it would be warned of your approach, perhaps able to hide behind a bolder olive oil that’s been around the block a few times.
How long do you think the computer will let you linger over the apples before it orders to you move to where its client, the U.S. Fruit Importers Cartel, has arranged instant coupons and a classic 1940’s video of Chiquita Banana reminding you that bananas make great daiquiris?
It’s not a fair fight. I’m just sayin.’
Don’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org.