This is a pretty good article about how far things have developed in the new online service economy, how much further they may go, and how it breaks down according to class (as the tagline says, “In the new world of on-demand everything, you’re either pampered, isolated royalty — or you’re a 21st century servant”).
As with so many other developments with modern affluence, I’m fascinated that the promised benefits are so clearly just the opposite of what is actually delivered—and yet no one seems to notice.
So here’s the big question. What does she, or you, or any of us do with all this time we’re buying? Binge on Netflix shows? Go for a run? Van Ekert’s answer: “It’s more to dedicate more time to working.”
The very pursuit of what’s promised not only distances you ever further from the goal, but increases your hunger to reach the goal. Doesn’t this sound like the punishments meted out in Dante’s Inferno?
Alfred, maybe, is the inevitable end point of this system. It’s an on-demand assistant that coordinates all the other on-demand apps for you, and it’s aimed at two groups: people who want the benefits of various apps but don’t want to bother setting them all up, and the “air traffic controllers,” who already have so many services coming to relieve their burden that coordinating them has become a new burden all of its own.
With Alfred, you no longer have to open the door for the Instacart delivery: A worker comes into your apartment and stocks food in your fridge. You don’t hand off your dirty undies to a Washio messenger; Alfred puts the laundered undies in the drawer. This all happens by paying your Alfred $99 a month, plus the goods and services at reduced cost through Alfred’s hookups. Alfred won first place in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference last year.
One heavy consumer of these services observes:
“I have a strong work ethic and worked 24–7 in college and went to school at night, so I know how to get things done. You have to outsource things that someone else can do for cheaper. To save an hour a day, I would spend $25.” In one hour of chore time saved, Mallon estimates she can make $1,000 for her company.
I’m sure Mallon’s company appreciates the gesture. But in giving up that hour of doing chores herself, does she end up forfeiting more in value than her company returns to her? If they’re rewarding her with money, well, at the logical end point of this the only place she’ll know to spend money is on buying more hours … but to what purpose?