Automation Will Make Robots Of Us All By Kelly Grehan

Many years ago I worked in a supermarket. It was hard not to notice the elderly ladies, who came through the 5 items or less check out every day and who seemed to seep with loneliness and for whom, that brief interaction might be the only time they heard a human voice all day.

Now when I go to the same supermarket the equivalent check out is no longer manned by a human, but rather customers are expected to serve themselves, often while an automated voice shouts orders about the bagging area. I wonder where the equivalent lonely people go now for that brief moment of company buying groceries once provided. With half of over 75 year olds living alone, I suspect there are lots.

There is a great debate to be had about how shops somehow managed to introduce a system where customers perform the tasks workers were once paid to do, with no reduction in prices to compensate. But there must also be concern about the unseen impacts of this.

Research is indicating that workers in countries with higher levels of automation report more physical and mental distress.

But I have real concerns about the decline of human interaction we are facing – so many things we used to do that brought us into contact with another person no longer do, from buying train tickets, paying for the bus to working at home to booking appointments. Almost one fifth of UK adults report being lonely and lacking social connections is shown to be as harmful for health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

There is also no doubt that new methods feel more stressful too. Now in restaurants, the cinema and even bars you can order a drink and be given a glass and expected to serve yourself, again for the same price you used to pay for someone to do it.

A trip to the bank now includes someone harassing everyone in the queue to use the machine instead and by printing our own tickets we now incur all the printing costs with the cost we used to pay to have tickets delivered now rebranded as a ‘booking fee.’

Of course, other areas which were once places of interaction are also in decline, such as pubs and clubs so it is no surprise loneliness is on the rise.

Technology marches on, with no chance to go back, so we must find ways to make sure that ‘progress’ is not at the cost of the mental health of the citizens who it claims to serve. We need to ensure we find new ways for people to connect because lives led in isolation will make us less open to positive human experiences than the robots who have taken our places.

Loss of Small Businesses Means Loss of Community By Kelly Grehan

I have to be honest and say I have always hated shopping.  If I can buy something online, rather than venture to my local shopping centre I will.

Since the internet became popular I do buy increasing numbers of things from craft and independent retailers because I like the niche products they often stock.  

I started running a Toy Appeal five years ago, which now collects around 1,500 gifts for children assisted by local charities and it would not be such a success without the support of small businesses.  

We write to all the big multinational companies who have a shop in our town and ask for support and they inevitably reply saying they cannot help.  

Small businesses however regularly get in touch volunteering to be drop off points, running collections and donating toys, as well as sharing our social media adverts.

Now, I appreciate that big retail shops will say that they make big donations to a chosen charity and that some have a place for food bank donations, but my experience has convinced me that the loss of independent shops on the high street has meant we have lost more than just the goods or services they sold – it has caused the loss of community.  

Local businesses have a stake in the community, they are reliant on the same amenities as their customers.  

In fact research shows that £10 spent with a local independent shop means up to an additional £50 goes back into the local economy.

This is simply because the nearby shop owners, who you are spending your money with, will then put that money back into your local community by going into local pubs and restaurants etc, thus circulating the money and allowing your community to thrive.

Interestingly local employers are more likely to pay a higher average wage than their commercial chain counterparts.  

Then there is the benefit for people of going to shops where the butcher (for example) knows their name and they know his or hers.

Those small things can mean the world of difference to locals, some of which can be suffering from loneliness and don’t often have the opportunity to speak to people face to face on a daily basis. To have a chat with the local staff and feel valued by local businesses who might know your ‘usual’ coffee, or just how you like your sandwich when you pop into your local cafe, does wonders for some. Humans are social creatures after all.

So next time you have the option to ‘buy local’ , it’s really important to remember the wider benefits that small businesses have on the local community.

This Saturday is Small Business Saturday, so I am pledging to think more about what I buy and where I buy it and whether I can be a better consumer for the community.

It would make the world of difference if we all could now and again.