JENKINS: Our technology is telling us what to do

"Please take your bags and your receipt, and thank you for shopping at (major chain supermarket). Now move your rear. You're holding up the line."

OK, the register in the self-checkout lane has never actually said that to me -- not the last part, anyway -- but I often suspect that it wants to. It's already accustomed to bossing me around: "Place your item in the bagging area." "Scan your next item."

Gee, thanks for the tip. I never would've thought of that.

The register also asks me embarrassing questions, such as whether I need cash. Well, of course I need cash. Who doesn't? Used to be, I could go into a banker's office and close the door before having to answer questions like that.

Lately, the register has even started asking me if I qualify for a senior citizens' discount. Since this is a fairly recent occurrence, I wonder whether the system has been reprogrammed or the comment is more personal -- like maybe the machine has scanned my hairline, assessing follicle density and pigmentation loss.

I guess what really bothers me is that a machine is talking to me at all. Not that I'm a neo-Luddite, mind you. I embrace technology. Why, some of my best friends are computers. This very column is being written on a computer, which explains all of the red and green squiggly lines.

I just think communication with our technology should be mostly one-sided. You know, the way women communicate with men.

Speaking of computers, those pop-up messages are the worst. I don't mean the advertisements. They're bad enough, but at least they're from real people. Sleazy, annoying, despicable people, but people.

I'm talking about messages from the computer itself, the ones that tell you when you've done something wrong: "You have committed a fatal error." Fatal? Say it ain't so. How long do I have, Dr. Gates?

This all started in the '80s, of course, when our cars began talking to us. Oh, not the staid, oversized, gas-guzzling, better-trade-by-60,000-miles American cars. At ease with their place in the world, they didn't feel the need to talk much. They were the strong silent types, the Clint Eastwoods of automobiles.

It was the feisty little imports that felt they had to impress us with their language skills -- which, regrettably, were often lacking. I knew English wasn't my sub-compact's first language when it kept insisting that the door was a jar.

Now even gas pumps talk to us, saying things like "Debit or Credit?" and "Please pay the cashier." Funny. I would have expected something more like "Put your hands up" or maybe "Leave your wallet on the hood and back away from the car."

Oh well. I suppose I'd better get used to being addressed by inanimate objects, what with another election cycle coming up.

I just hope we don't all make a fatal error.

Rob Jenkins is a free-lance writer and college professor who lives in Lawrenceville. Email him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.