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Words whose time has come.

It's getting so you need a dictionary--and an up-to-date one, at that--to understand what people are talking about in the superbusiness these days.

Most grocers are now reasonably conversant with demography. They realize that the population is fragmenting, and some of them are even zeroing in on specific psychographic segments in order to implement their positioning strategy.

But no sooner have these concepts (once called notions) become accepted than along comes ergonomics.

Ergonomics is defined as "the interface (once called link) between man and machine and the study of efficiency of persons in their working environment."

The word is definitely a comer. Before we know it, trade associations will offer workshops on Ergonomics for smaller Retailers, and Building Profits the Ergonomical Way. It doesn't matter that grocers have long delved into ergonomics without knowing it--for example, in improving efficiency at the checkout. Nothing is as captivating as a word whose time has come.

Similarly, in the warehouse, robotics and robotization are hot topics, even though automation, which means much the same thing, has been utilized for many years. Those really in the know discuss mechanized clones and artificial intelligence. The growing body of scholarly literature includes articles on "The Iron Collar Worker" and "How Popular Are Robots With Their Co-workers?" It's wonderful what new terminology can do for old subjects. Anyone for a robotomy?

Some of the most interesting additions to the industry's vocabulary stem from the world of computers. Early on, grocers might have been excused for thinking a modem was a new item in the feminine hygiene category. But now that Minis, Micros, and even PCs are becoming standard equipment in large supermarkets, modern managers have to know that a dump isn't a certain type of display, and that a display isn't something you put up at the end of an aisle. The menu may be tempting, but nothing on it should be eaten.

Technology has reached the point where computers talk directly with other computers, as in the Uniform Communications System. We can only guess whether the conversation goes beyond symbolic language understandable by humans. It wouldn't surprise us, though, if the seller's computer were to invite the buyer's computer out for a byte or maybe a gulp.

It's easy to poke fun at the terminology coming into use, some of which is needlessly arcane. But that is not to say that the words--and more particularly the thoughts and functions they define--can be taken lightly. Ergonomics is not just a fancier way to describe the human factors in the relationship between people and machines. It represents a more profound and studious approach to the industry's problems.

In that sense, the strange words are a welcome development. And we might as well get used to them, because more are on the way. They will arrive from such fields as mathematics, sociology, and psychology, all of which are due to be probed more intensively in the continuing search for productivity gains.

As operations become increasingly sophisticated, so will the attendant vocabulary. This will surely happen in regard to "conversations" with computers. We can expect the language to expand and communications to improve. Inputs will be more demanding and outputs more responsive. The future interface undoubtedly will be more purposeful and efficient. What we have to be on guard against in the prospective situation is a potential role reversal. If machines start concocting words and issuing commands to humans, instead of the other way around, that would be a monumental glitch.
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Publication:Progressive Grocer
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jun 1, 1984
Words:581
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