Being a university professor, I'm often impressed by how sweet young people today are to others. They never lash out or get jealous, but instead they often rave about people around them, saying, "That's great!" The extent of their warmth sometimes gets me worried and wondering if they can get by being so kind.
One day, one of my students made a presentation about the merits and problems with self-checkout systems at shops. The cashier-less system has recently been adopted at a number of convenience stores, clothing shops and other establishments. The store where the student works part-time has also installed a self-checkout machine.
While I was anticipating the student would talk about something like jobs being lost with the advent of artificial intelligence, a hot topic for discussion nowadays, that turned out not to be the case. The store where the student works has many elderly customers, who are bewildered by self-checkout stations and sometimes almost give up on their shopping trip altogether.
"The system makes older people lose confidence. They may even avoid going out or shopping. This would be disadvantageous both to them and stores," the student said in their presentation.
Other students were seen nodding vigorously in agreement. "No matter how much the self-checkout system prevails, conventional cashiers should be kept on for the sake of elderly and technically-challenged people," one student said, an opinion echoed by most of the other students.
"How, then, does self-checkout work for employees?" I asked my students. "The self-checkout system may make it more convenient, but doesn't it lead to downsizing of part-time staff?"
My question apparently took the students aback. One of them replied, "Although staff numbers haven't been slashed, work hours have been cut as cashiers are no longer necessary. At this rate, we might lose our jobs."
The comment suggests that a situation in which machines take over human labor, trimming their part-time hours, has become a reality. Even then, the students are feeling sorry for elderly customers, rather than worrying about their own jobs.
I was left with mixed emotions, at once amazed at how caring the students are to others, and at the same time thinking they should also focus on themselves more.
That being said, I feel I can put a lot of hope in a future built by those young people, who tend to prioritize consideration for others over care for themselves. I wish society will be a mutually caring one, where the younger set can fully exercise their benevolence while not being hurt by others.
(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)