I had an interesting experience earlier this week. I was doing some last-minute holiday shopping at a retail store. Checkout lines were quite long, and I had a full shopping cart. In time, the young woman who was working my checkout lane — let’s call her Marta — started ringing my stuff. When she was almost done, she came across an item — a shirt for my daughter — that had no tag.

I sighed. Usually, a missing tag means delays: someone must track down the item to try to figure out how much it costs. During the holiday season, this could only take longer; all store employees were very busy. I’d already spent a lot of time on line, and I could hear folks behind me start to grumble.

Then Marta did something surprising: she took out her phone and opened the store’s app to look for the item there. “How smart!,” I thought. Still, she wasn’t making much progress, so I decided to have a go on my phone. It was a Star Wars shirt with a specific phrase on the front so I could type in a reasonable Google search. Sure enough, I found the item within seconds. The store’s website not only had the shirt’s price: it also included its code. Marta entered this code into her checkout computer and not only found the item but also realized it was on sale!

Smartphones have given us all sorts of superpowers. This includes the ability to get information about almost anything almost anywhere. On this occasion, this superpower allowed us to leap the wall between the customer and the store’s inventory system. I felt empowered by this experience. It gave me a renewed appreciation for the power of our digital technologies.