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Exam practice by Dr Hannah Lili Böttcher<br />

Want a glimpse of dystopia? Visit the self-service checkouts (663 words)<br />

<strong>World</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Press</strong> • 2 nd November issue 2023 • page 2 page 1 of 4<br />

Exam Practice<br />

Topics: Automation • dystopia • artificial<br />

intelligence • society • technology<br />

Language variety: British English<br />

Answers: See pages 2 to 4<br />

| Image: Pixabay/Faisal Mehmood<br />

Assignments<br />

Task 1 – Comprehension<br />

Explain what the author, Adrian Chiles, believes to be dystopian about self-service checkouts.<br />

Task 2 – Analysis<br />

a) Analyse the syntax in paragraphs 3, 4, <strong>and</strong> 5.<br />

b) Analyse the author’s language use by grouping together examples <strong>and</strong> explaining them.<br />

Task 3 – Evaluation<br />

Do you believe the development towards more <strong>and</strong> more self-service checkouts point towards a utopian<br />

or dystopian future? List advantages <strong>and</strong> disadvantages <strong>and</strong> include this cartoon in your pro-<strong>and</strong>-con-list:<br />

• Cartoon by Trevor White captioned “I just want to interact with another human being...”, published by<br />

Cartoonstock, 25 Feb., 2022, search ID CS570316<br />

© 2023 Carl Ed. Schünemann KG. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.


Want a glimpse of dystopia? Visit the self-service checkouts<br />

<strong>World</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Press</strong> • November 2 / 2023 • page 2 page 2 of 4<br />

Answer key<br />

Assignments<br />

Task 1: Comprehension<br />

Sample points<br />

• The author believes self-service checkouts to be dystopian because they are slowly but steadily<br />

replacing the staffed checkouts, a process he calls “the death march of progress” (paras. 1–3).<br />

• What annoys him is that some self-service checkouts are always out of action while the rest of them do<br />

not work properly either (para. 3). By quoting the woman working in the supermarket, he also addresses<br />

the fact that automated tills are a problem for elderly <strong>and</strong> disabled people (para. 6).<br />

• Another negative factor is the fact that you cannot just exit the self-service area. Measures against shop<br />

theft involve that you scan the barcode on your receipt in order to be able to leave. This would make<br />

everything more tedious <strong>and</strong> harder for people. He thinks this would pose a challenge for elderly people<br />

like his father who might be able to operate the self-service checkout but would possibly get stuck trying<br />

to leave the supermarket (para. 5). This is almost like a nightmare that you cannot escape.<br />

• He believes the “[t]ipping point” was reached when the self-service checkouts outnumbered the human<br />

ones; to him, this is of great concern (“[e]xtinction loomed”, para. 4), <strong>and</strong> he paints a gloomy future<br />

scenario in which the human-operated tills will be a relic of the past <strong>and</strong> something that can be looked<br />

at only in a museum where they will be laughed at by the younger generations (para. 7).<br />

• Finally, using humour <strong>and</strong> exaggeration, he paints a dystopian picture of the future. He (self-mockingly)<br />

includes himself among the “[h]uman checkout enthusiasts” who will be tracked down by the AI police<br />

as “degenerate counter-revolutionaries” <strong>and</strong> displaced to some distant railway arches where they will<br />

“play pretend shops” at risk of being captured <strong>and</strong> killed by the government (para. 9).<br />

Task 2: Analysis<br />

Sample points<br />

a) Syntax: There are many short <strong>and</strong> incomplete sentences, for example, “A zero-sum game” (para. 3),<br />

“Tipping point. Extinction loomed.” (para. 4), “So cruel.” (para. 5). This feels like the author allows the<br />

reader to hear his unfiltered inner thoughts. The language is informal <strong>and</strong> expresses the author’s<br />

personal involvement with the topic. Together with spoken language (para. 5), this adds a sense of<br />

immediacy <strong>and</strong> alarm to the author’s message.<br />

b) Language use:<br />

• Exaggeration: He often exaggerates <strong>and</strong> uses dramatic vocabulary in order to support <strong>and</strong> stress<br />

his point about how awful the automated tills are (e.g., “my mood darkens”, “death march”, para. 1;<br />

“[e]xtinction”, para. 4; comparing self-service checkouts to a dystopia).<br />

• Slang: The author makes use of colloquial expressions (e.g., “fresh hell”, “beavered away”, “I<br />

shambled out”, paras. 5, 7, 8), which contributes to the immediacy of his message <strong>and</strong> his informal tone<br />

of writing.<br />

• Tone: In general, the article is written in an informal <strong>and</strong> humorous but also sarcastic <strong>and</strong> selfdeprecating<br />

tone. While being obviously annoyed <strong>and</strong> worried by the self-service checkouts, he adds<br />

some funny anecdotes, like the one about the dried-out geraniums (para. 3), his imagination how<br />

children will laugh at the human tills in museums, <strong>and</strong> how he <strong>and</strong> other supporters of human-operated<br />

tills will be outlawed by the AI police (para. 9). In some remarks (e. g., “our tender eyes”, para. 8),<br />

anecdotes (his struggle with the geraniums, para. 3; he <strong>and</strong> other people underestimating the<br />

development, para. 2), exaggerations (see above), <strong>and</strong> descriptions (“Human checkout enthusiasts,<br />

para. 9), he makes it clear that he is being self-deprecating.<br />

© 2023 Carl Ed. Schünemann KG. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.


Want a glimpse of dystopia? Visit the self-service checkouts<br />

<strong>World</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Press</strong> • November 2 / 2023 • page 2 page 3 of 4<br />

• Inner thoughts <strong>and</strong> use of contrast: He shares his inner thoughts (e. g., para. 5) by a quick<br />

succession of questions <strong>and</strong> answers <strong>and</strong> what he imagines other people’s reactions would be. Again,<br />

this, adds to the immediacy <strong>and</strong> his personal involvement in the topic. At times, it feels almost as if he<br />

were talking to himself (e. g., “That’s useful, I suppose.”, para. 5). In the concluding paragraph, he gets<br />

to the heart of his dystopian vision by contrasting what he expects to be the future (“Yes, …. No, ….”,<br />

para. 9).<br />

• Dialogues <strong>and</strong> address of the reader: The language is very lively, which is also achieved by<br />

including dialogues in the article (e.g., para. 6) as well as addressing the reader directly (“Oh yes,<br />

my friends, now you have to swipe a barcode on your receipt to be released.” para. 5).<br />

Figures of speech:<br />

• Metaphors:<br />

◦ “the death march of progress” (para. 1) – also oxymoron, a combination of two normally<br />

contradictory terms, as a death march is not normally associated with progress but with the opposite.<br />

◦ “next wave in the deluge” (para. 4): Metaphors are figures of speech that describe one thing in<br />

terms of another. Here, progress, normally associated with something positive <strong>and</strong> innovative, is<br />

compared to death (i.e., the ultimate end <strong>and</strong> thereby the opposite of progress). In the second<br />

example, the constantly growing numbers of automated tills are compared to a flood that sweeps<br />

everything away <strong>and</strong> where there is no chance to escape from it.<br />

• Antithesis <strong>and</strong> parallelism: “A h<strong>and</strong>ful of self-checkouts appeared; a h<strong>and</strong>ful of human ones<br />

vanished.” (para. 2): This juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in parallel structure is an indicator of the<br />

immediacy of what is at stake: the moment automated tills took over, human-operated ones were<br />

stopped. By juxtaposing these two phrases, the author points out how the one “supermarket reality”<br />

superseded the other.<br />

• Personification: “Still more territory has now been swallowed up by a dozen new, bigger auto-tills …”<br />

(para. 4). Here, the inanimate auto-tills are given human qualities, thereby also alluding to the idea that<br />

their presence is a threatening invasion.<br />

Task 3: Evaluation<br />

Individual answers; sample points<br />

Advantages<br />

• Self-service checkouts might be faster than human tills, which could be an advantage for the shop <strong>and</strong><br />

its customers, especially during busy working hours.<br />

• It saves the shops money because they need less staff. This would mean more profit – either if the<br />

shops keep the money or if they reinvest it <strong>and</strong> attract more customers with reduced prices.<br />

• By spending less money on staff, shops could provide more self-service checkouts <strong>and</strong> save customers<br />

more time.<br />

• Labour shortages at shops would be less of a problem because fewer members of staff are needed.<br />

• Self-service checkouts take up less space than human-operated ones.<br />

• During the Covid-19 p<strong>and</strong>emic, self-service checkouts reduced the risk of contagion.<br />

• Shops entirely based on self-service have been opened in rural places <strong>and</strong> make life in the countryside<br />

much easier.<br />

• Conclusion: This points towards a utopian future in which a greater use of machines not only helps<br />

humans to save time <strong>and</strong> money but also liberates them from monotonous <strong>and</strong> repetitive tasks like<br />

operating a supermarket check-out. Human beings will profit more from this than they would be harmed.<br />

Rural areas would benefit <strong>and</strong> the economy would profit financially by saving companies money as well<br />

as in terms of labour shortages because more machines would reduce the need for human workers.<br />

© 2023 Carl Ed. Schünemann KG. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.


Want a glimpse of dystopia? Visit the self-service checkouts<br />

<strong>World</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Press</strong> • November 2 / 2023 • page 2 page 4 of 4<br />

Disadvantages<br />

• Self-service checkouts might not necessarily be faster than human-operated ones, especially if there is<br />

a glitch (which very likely will happen), <strong>and</strong> it turns into a bigger technical problem than a member of<br />

staff could fix immediately at a human till.<br />

• It’s absurd when a member of staff needs to fix a glitch at a machine that’s supposed to reduce the<br />

amount of human time spent on it.<br />

• People working at the checkouts might lose their jobs, which leads to more unemployment.<br />

• You need some practice, especially with products that don’t have a scan code, like fresh vegetables<br />

<strong>and</strong> fruit, fresh bread, or reduced items.<br />

• Some groups of people, for example, elderly or disabled ones, might have huge difficulties operating<br />

the self-service checkouts because these tills are not necessarily user-friendly or accessible for people<br />

with disabilities or without a lot of technical knowledge.<br />

• As is shown in the cartoon, there is no more human interaction at the till when you only have selfservice<br />

checkouts. However, talking to a real person when you do your shopping is an important part of<br />

some customers’ social interaction during the day, especially elderly <strong>and</strong> lonely people, so this could<br />

lead to more loneliness among certain parts of the population. The p<strong>and</strong>emic showed how the loss of<br />

everyday contact can affect people.<br />

• Automated checkouts make the whole shopping experience much more anonymous. There are even<br />

self-service shops with no staff at all.<br />

• The risk of shop theft is greater.<br />

• Conclusion: This points towards a dystopian future in which a greater use of machines will cause more<br />

harm than good. Social interaction would be reduced more <strong>and</strong> more, which would in turn affect<br />

people’s mental health. The development puts people who have a harder time using machines at a<br />

disadvantage. Furthermore, human beings would be made redundant, which would harm the economy<br />

due to higher unemployment. Machines also make or have pre-programmed errors, <strong>and</strong> the more<br />

people rely on them, the greater the risk that these become harder <strong>and</strong> harder to fix.<br />

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