My Future Was Destroyed by the UPC Scanner

When a great invention steals your dream job away, you make new plans.

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When I was a kid, there was only one job I definitely wanted when I grew up—supermarket cashier. I grew up in New Jersey when long nails were ubiquitous and UPC scanners hadn't yet come into their own. That meant cashiers were still tapping the register keys, making everyday concerts of their quick clicks. Nail polish—almost always accessorized with tiny jewels and floral motifs—was often dayglow orange or hot pink, and very nice to watch at work while you waited in long lines at Pathmark or Kings. A truly skilled cashier could whiz through our grocery cart, her eyes rarely glancing at the keys.

I spent many hours in training for my dream job. A set of press-on nails and an extra-large calculator enabled me to develop my skills at home. On occasion, I would get some real-world experience, when a cashier would generously let me come around the counter and key in the numbers for a can of Country Time or a jar of kosher pickles.

Alas, my dream was shortsighted. The day of UPC scanners came and the rhythmic supermarket click-caphony gave way to a lifeless, money-sucking beep. Things got faster, as they often do.

Wired does a great job of commemorating the invention of the UPC, or universal product code—used first for a pack of gum on this day, June 26, in 1974. You'll notice the story is noticeably lacking a proper eulogy for those of us—I'm sure can't be the only one—who saw our bright futures fade away.


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