Coming home from work this evening, I stopped at my local store-lets call it The Co-Operation store-to do a spot of food shopping. The store had been recently (in like the last 4 months or so) renovated, brighter with more stock and space. I’d noticed this cosmetic change in the same way you might notice a co-worker’s change of hairstyle: a brief interest, possibly feigned, whilst you accommodate this alteration into the relevant cognitive schema before moving on and forgetting all about it.
One thing about the change in the store however, had stuck with me, albeit in a minor way, only compelling me to notice it properly today, when its total incongruity was shoved, right in my face.
I should explain. Like in most stores, but usually every grocery store, you can pay by putting your debit or credit card into the chip machine at the register, which instructs you to “insert card”, “enter pin” etc… The machines at the Co-operation store, since its makeover, taken to soliciting information from customers, by way of having pre-set questions pop up on the display, before you can begin any transaction. Responses to the question can be made by pressing a keypad button indicated “Yes” or “No”.
The questions are, and have been, for the most part, almost entirely innocuous ranging from basic, staff training type fluff: “Was our store clean and tidy?”; “Were our staff well presented?” to market research oriented “Did you know you can bank your money with us now?”. I mentioned earlier that I had noticed these captive audience questionnaires during previous visits, and I had, but they had never seemed worthy of afterthought, a simple harnessing of new technologies to target consumers.
Today however, as a glanced down to the screen prior to paying for goods supplied, the question staring back up at me took me aback so much that for a second, I just stopped and stared back at it. It read:
“Do Co-Operatives help to narrow the gap between rich and poor?”
Market Research and Consumer Studies are, for all their protestations and fantasies to the contrary, an inexact science. This is precisely due to the fact that individuals, groups and societies are similarly inexact in their beliefs, desires etc.. It would seem though that a special kind of hubris, ignorance or simple carelessness bears responsibility for believing that this question could be formulated in this way, presented in this form, in that context and believe that anything whatsoever could be gained from it, commercially, ethically, politically or otherwise.
I gain no joy from picking apart minutiae, (although I think that this is somewhat more) or trying to reconstitute it as something bigger. But to see such a question, which is not, in itself a question so much as on proposition or premise (and an incredibly important one at that) amongst many others in a complex ethico-political series of arguments and counter arguments about justice, economics and human autonomy, distilled by persons unknown, into a one line “push-button-text-vote” in a grocery store line in the micro-seconds before a commercial transaction is…well…I don’t know, something.