PICTURE this. A couple walk into a shop, choose a product and take it to a till resembling an oversized typewriter.

The shopkeeper tells them how much it is, opens the till, puts the money in, gives back some change and smiles politely, before shouting: "Next!"

Now picture this. A couple walk into a popular textile store. They choose two vases and two sprigs of dried twigs for decorative purposes and proceed to the till, where there are no customers. They then spend the next ten minutes in a highly embarrassed state as the queue behind them grows. And why is this?

Well, one vase has no barcode on and the other has to be found to be scanned. One of the sprigs has no barcode on it either but, worse still, it is the last one on display. What is it called? No-one knows. When they eventually find out, is it the large or small version?

When all prices are established, a cash card is produced for which a PIN number is required! That is not known, so the transaction has to be voided and re-entered as a normal card transaction, that is one that you sign. Of course, this necessitates the authorisation of a manager. He does his bit and the couple finally pay and slink out, not daring to look at the growing queue -- to which the till-lady apologises.

And what you may ask is (a) the difference between the two scenarios and (b) the point of all this? Well, the difference is about 20 years and the point is whether, for all this marvellous technological change going on all around us, we are actually making any progress. After all, everything still seems to take just as long, if not longer. And what happened to all that leisure time we were promised when all these labour-saving devices took over?

You have been warned!