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For some Californians, skipping self-checkout is an act of humanity

A grocery store cashier and customer smile as the older woman writes a check for her groceries.
Sharon Hechler, 70, right, who has worked at Albertsons for almost 50 years, chats with longtime customer Marliss Meyers, 82, at the Arcadia grocery store.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Aug. 29.

After stocking up on food and other provisions at my local grocery store, I typically make my way to the self-checkout kiosk. I have my reasons: Usually the process feels faster and the lack of a cashier can be nice when I’m feeling more introverted (especially after I’ve received plenty of extroverted energy at Trader Joe’s).

For some Americans, though, interacting with a familiar cashier is a cherished part of their day. As my colleague Marisa Gerber reported this week, those kinds of human connections are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, especially for those who grew up in an analog world.

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Gerber cites a PlayUSA survey in which two-thirds of those surveyed said technology has made it harder to connect meaningfully with others. At the same time, “66% of respondents said they would choose a self-service kiosk over the human alternative,” she wrote.

“But there was a sharp divide along generational lines,” Gerber noted. “Although 84% of Gen Zers prefer self-checkouts, it dropped to 46% for baby boomers.”

Gerber visited grocery stores in Southern California, documenting some of the interactions between older shoppers and the cashiers they chat with in line. Many know each other by name, sharing stories of joy and grief and enjoying meaningful friendships.

Shopper Darryl Jones, 72, told Gerber he purposefully avoids the self-checkout kiosks.

“Those little things really make it important to have a human,” he said. “A computer is cold. The courtesy is taken away.”

But it’s not always up to the customer. Self-checkouts now make up nearly 40% of lanes at U.S. grocery chains, Gerber reported. Many industries have pushed for increased automation in recent years beyond grocery stores, like fast-food chains and movie theaters. Mobile pick-up could also be viewed as a form of this — it eliminates the need to walk around a store and shop; you just drive up, touch your phone a couple times, show a code, a worker puts your bags in your trunk, and off you go.

At the same time, loneliness and isolation have become an American epidemic, as the U.S. surgeon general warned in an advisory earlier this year.

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“Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling — it harms both individual and societal health, “ Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy wrote, adding that it can increase a person’s risks of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and premature death.

The advisory pointed to a declining trend in social networks and participation, which were “accelerated” by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to officials.

Older adults experience higher rates of social isolation, which “accounts for an estimated $6.7 billion in excess Medicare spending annually, largely due to increased hospital and nursing facility spending,” officials wrote.

But feelings of loneliness and isolation aren’t unique to that group alone, as the advisory explains:

“Studies find the highest prevalence for loneliness and isolation among people with poor physical or mental health, disabilities, financial insecurity, those who live alone, single parents, as well as younger and older populations. For example, while the highest rates of social isolation are found among older adults, young adults are almost twice as likely to report feeling lonely than those over 65.”

And that’s where the regular interactions we have in our communities come in. Toni Antonucci, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, told Gerber that “weak ties” — low-stakes, friendly relationships that come out of daily life — help maintain our well-being.

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“It’s somebody who makes you feel important in their world,” she said. “Somebody who makes you feel human.”

You can read Marisa Gerber’s subscriber exclusive story here.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

L.A. STORIES

The Magic Castle is going nautical. The exclusive Hollywood club is getting its own themed cruise that will take passengers for a seven-day journey, complete with performing magicians, cocktails and more. Los Angeles Times

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS

For decades Mark Ridley-Thomas wielded considerable political power in L.A. County, serving as an L.A. city councilmember, state assemblyman, state senator and county supervisor. Now he’s set to serve 42 months in prison after being convicted of federal corruption charges earlier this year. The sentence came Monday from U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer, who said Ridley-Thomas “has not accepted responsibility and has shown no remorse” for his “serious crimes.” Los Angeles Times

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California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta is suing Chino Valley Unified school district, arguing its policy to notify parents of student gender changes carries “danger of imminent, irreparable harm.” The lawsuit, Times reporter Mackenzie Mays writes, “escalates culture war debates playing out on some school boards in red pockets of deep-blue California and puts districts that have proposed similar policies on alert.” Los Angeles Times

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

A San Francisco bakery chain has drawn ire from the city’s police union, which claims the business is “bigoted” and has refused to serve uniformed officers. Reem’s California says its policy is to not allow anyone armed with a gun inside its stores. Los Angeles Times

A federal jury awarded $23.8 million to the mother of a Navy veteran killed by Los Angeles police officers. The jury determined two officers used excessive and unreasonable force when they fatally shot Jesse Murillo in December 2017. The payout is one of the largest awarded in a case involving an LAPD shooting. Los Angeles Times

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Just in case anyone forgot, we’re still in a pandemic. Health officials are reminding the public to use caution as COVID-19 cases in California — and across the nation — continue to rise. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

A UC Riverside ethnic studies professor has agreed to resign after mounting allegations that she falsely claimed Native American heritage. Andrea Smith has said for years that she is Cherokee, though as far back as 2007, that was called into question by tribal officials, who said she was not enrolled. Last year, 13 professors at UC Riverside filed a complaint against her, arguing she violated school policy. Los Angeles Times

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Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California landmark is from David Hayashida of Greenbrae: the San Francisco skyline.

A view of the San Francisco skyline between the Golden Gate and Bay bridges.
(David Hayashida)

David writes:

San Francisco’s pandemic recovery has been slow, but there is still a lot to love!

What are California’s essential landmarks? Fill out this form to send us your photos of a special spot in California — natural or human-made. Tell us why it’s interesting and what makes it a symbol of life in the Golden State. Please be sure to include only photos taken directly by you. Your submission could be featured in a future edition of the newsletter.

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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