The End of an Era and the Dumbing of Society

Down by where I work a Toys r Us is in the process of shutting down. Big signs in the front windows say that there’s only seven more days left. Until recently, I had only been inside one time. This was back shortly after Star Wars: Episode I came out in 1999 and it had every Star Wars book, toy, and collectible imaginable filled the shelves. Every other commercial back then seemed to remind us all that we were Toys r Us kids, and just about every child’s favorite animal from the earliest age was a giraffe.

Walking through the store almost twenty years later, it’s shelves bare and no employee seeming to give a damn about their jobs as the end drew near, I almost choked up. It had never been a big part of my life; I remember my brother and I every time we passed by the giant building growing up if we could go, but our parents never did. Yet somehow I knew that the death of this once-great company, the one store around solely for kids, was another blow struck in the side of society.

A year or two ago, in Woodland Mall directly across the street from the Toys r Us, the Sears that had long been the go-to spot for shoppers in that part of town, was one of countless Sears’ to go out of business. It had been a fixture of the mall for so long that it was not kept up to code, now that entire side of the mall has been completely demolished. Thankfully they decided to expand it into a bunch of smaller stores instead of waiting hopelessly for a new tenant to lease a giant department store, but it was still depressing to watch one of an ancient line of stores fall to its knees and leave the Kentwood area for good.

People say that the rise of Amazon and other online retailers is to blame for the closing of all these long-time outlets. I don’t believe that. I believe it all comes down to people wanting to be lazy and always looking for the easy way out. Why go out and actually put forth some effort shopping and socializing with people when you can just log onto your phone and buy whatever you want with a debit card? This attitude causes the on-site retailers to lose money and go out of business and all their employees to lose their jobs. And eventually to replace all these closed stores a new distribution center will pop up somewhere in the country, which will do absolutely no good to the dozens (if not hundreds) of newly unemployed cashiers and stockers. All of that retail and customer service experience gone to waste. Some of them will be able to find other retail jobs nearby. Some might have to move or travel further for work in other stores. A lot will have to enter the various factories, usually as temp-to-hires, which might pay a little bit better and weekly but be the polar opposite of what they were doing before. Some might not find work for a long time. If they’re old enough, their store closing is just another sign that it’s time to retire. But sadly most retail employees are young and have many years left before they can even begin to plan for retirement.

I hear a lot of people nowadays say, “McDonald’s is always hiring.” It might be true, but the question I ask myself is “what position are they hiring for?” The days of people taking your order at the front counter are drawing to a close. Already in my hometown the kiosks have started taking over, with three registers reduced to a single one with only one employee monitoring four terminals in case a customer needs help figuring it out. Now the only way to gain cash handling skills and perfect customer service, particularly as a minor who might never have held a job before, is the drive-thru window. And soon it will only be a matter of time before kiosks replace the loudspeakers and the role of the window person would only be to hand out bags and drinks. Then where is a young employee supposed to learn?

In the old days, when you dialed a number to a business an operator or store employee picked up. Today, even some of the smallest mom and pop joints have converted to automated voice answering systems. Instead of taking a second or two to transfer a call or answer a question, employees rely on a computer to do much of the work for then. Again, where is the customer service experience in that? Those who are lucky enough to be allowed to answer phones and field questions usually have zero customer service skills at all and don’t know how to handle themselves in social situations. The corporate response? Provide prompts for each and every kind of situation imaginable.

Prompts. Sheets of paper with lines and phrases, questions and answers on them that you either have to memorize or read off of verbatim to whoever is on the other end of the line. And you’re usually not allowed to deviate from them, either. Not even by a word or two. The corporations think that this is a way to make sure their employees are setting a professional example, when to those of us who do have A LOT of customer service experience and who have working brains with ample amounts of brain cells it is just insulting.

How dumb and lazy have we gotten, humanity? How worse are we going to get? As a science fiction writer I love to fantasize about technologically advanced societies with marvels the likes of which most people never could even dream of. But with each passing day, I think we will be more like the fatasses in Wall-E. Lazy beyond all get out. Needing machines and technology to do every single thing while we just lay back and be tired, lazy, and useless. Then when we are too busy satisfying our own wonton desires our machines will become smarter and smarter until eventually they wipe us out before we even know what is happening. We’d be lost without it.

Some people will think I’m just a nerd over-exaggerating, but I’m not. It’s already happening. There really are people out there that can’t exist without technology. A house full of teenagers who grew up in the iPhone Age with WiFi and xBox and PlayStation would seriously not know what to do with themselves if the WiFi goes out. My own kid brother always looked like a fish without water if one of his days-long CoD matches ended because someone’s WiFi got cut off, even for a few minutes. Many of these kids who freak out and don’t know what to do with themselves are surrounded by books, drawing pads, balls, bird games, and many other things to do that don’t require the internet. But their minds are too shallow too realize it. They’re too stupid to understand that it is possible to communicate with someone over the phone while using your brain to assist them, or that it’s possible to physically take an order and punch it in on a register screen instead of the customer having to do it themselves.

These examples don’t even count the people who cannot add one plus one together, or subtract five by ten. Multiple any number by one or divide something by two. God forbid someone try to learn a foreign language without Siri translating it for them. It’s even becoming an inconvenience for people to plug in headphones into the jack of their phones; they all have to be wireless. The minuscule physical effort needed to insert the headphones alone has become too much for some people to handle. I would not be surprised if the same people stopped wiping their asses, because that is even more of a required effort.

Again I ask you, what the hell happened, World? Why the hell did we all become so damn useless?

31 thoughts on “The End of an Era and the Dumbing of Society”

  1. I’ve been thinking about this one for a while. I’m not certain it has much at all to do with laziness. It has to do with price point. Kay-Bee Toys closed for the same reason, and Barnes and Noble is facing a similar problem. When you run everything at MSRP and places like Amazon or even Walmart under bid, people are going to go where they can save money. I’ve never seen Toys R Us or B&N vacant. People go there to shop… and then dig out their phones to price match and/or buy. My two Republic credits for whatever they’re worth. That said, I don’t disagree about the laziness argument. You’re on point there. I just don’t think these things are connected, at least not directly.

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      1. I don’t think they have to compare. They know the prices are cheaper elsewhere. They go to the stores to see what product is there, play test it, that sort of thing. It’s hard to do that online. But then the sticker shock hits, and it’s really easy to undermine the store. Instant gratification is right there in front of them on the shelf, and people just aren’t going for it.

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      2. It is. And if you know the stores are more expensive than online, it’s cheaper and easier, which connects up to your point. Still seeing those stores packed though, which is why I started giving that consideration. *shrug* As they say, reality is likely somewhere in the middle.

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  2. I also think the quality of brick and mortar stores has gone down. Why go somewhere in person just to find that what you wanted is out of stock? Also the customer service is generally not good. Half the time I go to a store I feel like I am bothering the employees by walking in the door. If stores offered something you couldn’t find online, like helpful customer service, personalized recommendations, maybe they would have a fighting chance.

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  3. You’re well on your way to becoming a curmudgeon… damn fine work for a young ‘un! I couldn’t agree more about the laziness and stupidity of society. I have so many examples. Must resist writing about stupid people tomorrow…

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  4. Boy! Isn’t that the truth! I had to go all 10 rounds with my kids elementary math teacher who had them using it in math class. She went down TKO style with “knowing how to use on is fine but I want MY kids to know how to add numbers together evennif they don’t have one!”

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  5. I worked at K-Mart for a fee months before they went out of business, so I know how Toys R’ Us employees feel. I was lucky to find a job quickly after we closed. I agree with you about how technology is overtaking our society. Pretty soon, McDonals will be run by computers. Kids these days do not have any imagination. They can’t sit down with dolls and action figures and create a world. Nope, everything is about iPods, tablets, and video games. I am a 90s kid so I watched my fair share of television, but I also played with toys and spent time outside. Kids these days cannot even do that. I am not sure if we should blame the parents or our dumbed down society. People barely read books anymore and if they do, its on a tablet or phone. I still read physical books and I enjoy keeping Barnes & Noble in business.

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  6. I agree with everything that you said, but… there is this to add:

    For many years kids that were hired to work in any shop or department store (pick one) haven’t cared an iota about customer service. In the late 70s and 80s I was taught to know the whole store and to be ready and able to show the customer where an item is even if it wasn’t in my department. If I was surrounded, then and only then, I would tell the customer what isle, how far down and on what shelf they could find what they were looking for. I was also taught that if we didn’t have it we were to tell the customer what store they might try next to find it. In addition, if they needed answers to questions I didn’t know my response was – “I don’t know; let’s go find someone who knows about it and we will learn together.” People loved that, and they rarely left the store empty handed.

    These days I go in to the brick and mortar stores and I am met with eyes that glaze over when you ask a question. The hired help will give you one of two responses – “I don’t know it’s not my department” OR they will act pained because they have a job to do and I am interrupting their work.

    Hello! I am your job.

    Lately, in our neck of the woods at least, I have begun to see a resurgence of the helpful and friendly sales person ethic. Most still don’t know what goes on in other departments, but I cut them some slack because they are working in “big box” stores. That is a lot of acreage to memorize every item on every shelf on 60 plus isles. 😉

    Q: John, where is your follow button? I am enjoying your thought provoking writing style. Thanks!

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    1. I’m assuming the same place as everyone else’s, I haven’t looked on my site as an outsider before so I’m not sure. But it’s there! Somewhere. I just surpassed 1100 followers and they keep coming so there’s some way to follow me…

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      1. You have to add the widget to your sidebar. That way I can get your posts delivered directly to my inbox. Some choose to find you in their Reader, but if you come directly via my email I won’t loose you in the pile. I hope you will consider it, and congratulations on all your followers!

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  7. Oh my goodness, I was just thinking this the other day when I got a generic email responding to a tech issue I had. How dumb do they think we are? do you think I didn’t troubleshoot first before I took the time to to email in the first place. How about a personalized email response back asking if I had troubleshooted first instead of assuming that I am dumber than a stump and didn’t try to fix the issue myself before contacting someone for help. And why can’t someone pick up the phone and call? Instead of emailing back and forth all day? Problems could be solved so much faster if people just talked to each other! But then that would require customer service skills. ugh

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  8. The technological/digital age is a different beast to what I grew up in – so much has changed, innocence seems to have gone, and the media/social media dictates values and images that many fall victim to. Rant over lol ☺️🔆

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  9. I don’t really think there’s a way to fix things. We are far past that point. Everyone is fed bullshit and the majority of the people are blinded and believe it. People are more worried about what celebrities are doing and sports. The higher ups like to keep people distracted from what’s really wrong and the things we should be concerned about. It’s sad….

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