I remember a time when I was a kid of selling enough Ferry’s garden seeds to be rewarded with an amazing “device” that would allow me to see in the dark and send secret messages to my friends.
After waiting anxiously for weeks, my reward arrived in the mail. It was a Rayovac flashlight with a dot and dash Morse code alphabet booklet enclosed.
Who would have ever thought that simple idea behind my seed-selling reward would someday change the world.
I was reminded of that fact while in a Plano Antique Mall. I was looking at some old tobacco tins. The stall proprietor was on hand and sensed a sale.
He began to embellish their value by telling me he’d inherited those Edgeworth, Prince Albert and Lucky Strike tobacco tins from his great grandpa.
That made sense to me. After all, I was in an antique mall and I remembered that my own grandpa carried a Prince Albert can with a little business ledger and pencil in it in the bib pocket of his overalls.
“When did your great grandpa die?” I asked. “1952,” said the man. “Dang! Your great grandpa’s tins ought to be in a museum some place ‘cause some of ‘em have UPC barcodes on them,” said I.
It’s only my opinion, but I believe the Universal Product Code (UPC) barcode is one of the greatest inventions in the modern world. It’s also destroyed a lot of jobs.
The UPC barcode is the reason there’s no toll takers in the booths on tollways. It’s the reason there’s hardly any sales personnel in JC Penny, Sears and a lot of other retail establishments.
This was brought to my mind when I walked into my local Wally World supercenter the other day looking for cheap underwear, socks, bakery and meat department “markdowns.”
Though the store hummed with activity, only three of the 25 check stands were open.
Over in the “check yourself out” area, folks were backed up waiting to check themselves out.
The grocery aisles were filled with Wally World “associates” with handheld devices that can read UPC bar codes shopping for folks who’d ordered stuff online.
It kinda struck me as an insult. There I was, in a store with cash in hand, being ignored while the “associates” served folks sitting at home.
Now some folks view this as progress and might wonder how all this progress came about.
The UPC came about in 1952 when a fellow named Joe Woodland was sitting on the beach in Miami Florida. Trying to remember the Morse code he’d learned as a Boy Scout, he began poking the dots and dashes of the code into the sand. For some reason he drug the dots into lines in the sand. Bingo! The birth of the UPC.
But the UPC was impractical until another invention came into use in the 1960’s: the laser light beam.
The promise of my seed-selling reward, “to see in the dark and send secret messages,” finally came true. But is it progress?