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Wawa is a local convenience store chain in the Mid-Atlantic. The typical store is a big gas station near a major road, along with a store selling the sorts of things working people would pickup during the day. Their big draw is a sandwich shop that makes a decent cold cut at a very good price. It is not gourmet eating, but it is far above what you would get from a fast food joint. Of course, being a convenience store, they have the quick items you would expect.
Another take on this is a chain calling itself Royal Farms. They have copied the model used by Wawa and many other chains. They used to be strictly a convenience store chain, but they have been building big gas stations. Many are something like a small truck stop, providing services to the big scary truck people. Like Wawa, they have a sandwich shop, but their hook is fried chicken. They claim to have the best take away fried chicken on the planet.
One interesting difference between the two chains in the Greater Lagos area is that Wawa hires mostly white people, while Royal Farms hires black people. Wawa will hire the occasional nonwhite, but the stores are 90% white. Royal Farm is 100% black at their stores. This turns up in the customer base too. Go into a Wawa at lunch time and it is all white working people. Go to Royal Farm and it is lots of black people, along with some Hispanics and white working-class people.
The one thing both chains have in common is a labor problem. Royal Farm is the most amusing in this regard. It is entirely possible to order a turkey sub and be handed a roll with just the condiments and then be told they are out of turkey. Alternatively, it is possible to order something but you get nothing or someone got tired of waiting and simply took your food when you were not looking. Of course, this all assumes the ordering kiosk is working, which is not always the case.
Like many take out chains, Royal Farms was an early adopter of the self-service kiosk in order to solve the quality control problem. Quality control in this case means the staff, who struggle to do the basics. Mother Nature does not always get it right and the defects end up working at Royal Farms. This problem has turned up all over the retail space, but Royal Farms seems to get the worst of the worst. There is a World Star Hip-Hip vibe to their hiring decisions.
No one is immune to the retail staffing problems and as a result these two competing chains have been in a technology war. The self-service kiosk for ordering was the first logical step to reduce errors in food orders. Both aggressively push their app and the use of delivery services. Both now have self-checkout kiosks that blow away the ones you see at the big retail chains like Home Depot. The goal, of course, is to reduce the staffing to the barest minimum.
What this points to is something that people have been warning about for decades and that is the great robot take over of the workplace. Go into one of these chains and you can easily imagine a time when you order your sandwich from the screen and a robot assembles it, wraps it up and delivers it to a pickup area. You pay for your items at a self-checkout kiosk using your bank app. The only interaction with a human is the guards who make sure you paid your bill.
This is not limited to retail. The mass layoffs at Twitter confirm what many people have suspected for a long time. There are lots of people sitting in office cubicles who have no real purpose. Maybe they are there to tick boxes. Maybe they perform some function mandated by the government, which could be automated. Maybe the marketplace has stopped functioning, allowing for massive overstaffing. That clearly has been the case at the giant tech firms like Twitter.
The people who have been warning about the automation revolution have always asked the question, what happens to the displaced workers? The teddy bear conservatives cling to is the great invisible hand of the marketplace. Sure, the robots will replace the people, but the magic of creative destruction will save the day. Look around the retail space and that is clearly not happening. It will certainly not be the case for the tens of thousands of people fired from Big Tech.
Even if the magic beans of capitalism are not the answer, it does not follow that there will be a neo-Luddite revolt against the machines. Again, you get a glimpse of the future in these retail chains. Go into a Wawa and people are happy to interact with a robot to get their food and checkout. Everything about that experience, in fact, everything about their lives has been reduced to a transaction. As long as people can get their extra large drink and snacks, they will not complain.
That is the lesson of Covid. Those fired Twitter people were in make work jobs and they knew they we in make work jobs. Here are some examples from conservative media that have been making the rounds. The reason these people liked working at home so much is they were not doing anything at work. Covid allowed them to pretend that goofing off at home was real work. The reason firms are struggling to get people back to work is many of their workers have no real purpose.
How big of a leap is it to slash the pointless people from the workforce and then give them busy work at home? Some parts of the country spent close to two years experimenting with this idea. It was like the old gag around Washington whenever there was a big snowstorm. Nonessential workers were told to stay home, which meant everyone working for the government. Something similar happened during Covid and we learned that most people were not essential.
Of course, Covid came with rules to make sure the suddenly idle were not going outside and getting into trouble. Short of a revolution, we will never know why the rulers all got on the lock down bandwagon, but one likely answer is they feared millions of idle people milling around looking for something to do. Making sure they stayed in their huts, plugged into the internet was a primary goal. The robot revolution will no doubt come with something similar to pacify the masses.
Stand around in a place like Wawa and it is not hard to see where this is all heading and then wonder if it can work. We are about to tip into a world with lots of useless people, kept busy by a custodial state. They will be given credits to buy the things they want and kept busy through various means. Some will be assigned busy work, while others will simply be amused into a catatonic state. Still others will be used to police their fellow inmates in the custodial state.
From the perspective of the managerial class, this seems like a great challenge that will give purpose to their lives, even though many will be assigned to busy work. Can a people live like this is another question. Note that during Covid there was not the predicted baby boom. It turns out that lots of idle people at home did not let nature take its course after all. Maybe such an unnatural way of living does not put one in the mood to bring new life into such a world.
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