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SEATTLE–With two Amazon-owned Whole Food grocery stores in town, it is not unlikely that Evanstonians may someday be shopping in a store where you walk out with your purchases without standing in line at a checkout counter.

So on a visit to the northwest, we took the opportunity to shop at Amazon Go, the experimental grocery store in downtown Seattle that holds out the promise of revolutionizing the way we may all do our grocery shopping in the future.

Because the store is small, about the size of a convenience store like 7-Eleven, and its popularity is large, we had to wait in line for a few minutes until there was room inside for us to enter.

An attendant explained that we first had to download the Amazon Go app onto our cell phone and enter our Amazon card information onto the app.  Actually, we had already done this onto my cell phone, so my wife and our two teenage grandsons could enter on my account.

As we entered the store, I stood at the turnstile and held the CR code so that it registered as each of my family members entered the store.  An attendant handed us an orange shopping bag to hold our purchases. She explained that we would be charged for any merchandise we retrieved from a shelf and placed in the bag, but if we changed our mind, we could return any item to the shelf and it would be deducted from our total.

We would only be charged for the items we removed from the store itself.

Items on the shelves were mostly prepackaged food items, including bottled drinks.  There was not a great selection, but then we took that with the understanding that this was essentially an experimental store.

Most of the customers seemed to be members of the Millennial Generation, and many were curiosity-seekers like us.

Yet the concept was simple:  you take the foods you want, place them in your bag, and walk out without paying.

As we exited, we asked the attendant if we could see a receipt for our purchases. He assured us that it would appear in our email within the next five minutes, and that if we disputed any of the purchases, we could challenge them and they would be removed from our charge.

We made our way to our car, which was parked less than a block away, and I checked my email. And there was our receipt. We had only purchased five items, but each was accurately itemized, and none of the items that we had returned to the shelf were listed as having been purchased.

The mind begins to race when considering the impact of technology like this. How many grocery stores do we have in Evanston, and how many jobs of cashiers could potentially be lost?

Since the advent of the industrial revolution some 150 years ago, every major invention has summoned similar thoughts.  The invention of the automobile, for example, was expected to foster widespread unemployment from industries it replaced, yet it has created several times more jobs than it has displaced.

The same could be said for virtually every major invention.

Yet, the bottom line for technological change has been that such developments do not necessarily cause people to lose their jobs. Instead, technological change results in freeing people from doing some jobs so that they can take on other jobs.

And so far, there have been enough work opportunities in this world that there have always been new jobs to be done by persons who lose their jobs to technological change.

Our schools in Evanston have already taken up that challenge, not by preparing students to pursue existing occupations, but by preparing them to understand basic concepts that can be utilized to tackle ever-changing challenges that face them as Amazon Go-like situations present opportunities to take advantage of these changes.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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