Never Leave the House

This week we signed up for Instacart, based download on the recommendation of the eminent seafarer @kivestu. If you’re not familiar with it, Instacart is a grocery delivery service where you select items from nearby grocery stores and have them delivered a few hours later.

Instacart completes a cycle that we started many years ago when we started buying things on Amazon not because they were cheaper, but because delivery was more convenient. Today, almost everything we need is delivered:

  • Amazon delivers our diapers, tissues, et al.
  • Instacart delivers our groceries.
  • Postmates delivers our dinner.
  • StitchFix/Trunk Club deliver our clothes (and do our shopping for us).
  • Birchbox/Dollar Shave Club deliver our personal care.

This doesn’t even include that 1800 Contacts delivers our contacts (or did), we order our books on Amazon and Netflix delivers our movies. In fact, we deposit checks and pay our bills using mobile apps, print and scan documents at home and sync all our photos digitally. These were all tasks that would have taken a trip to a store only 7 years ago. While I do miss the social atmosphere of shopping malls and small local stores, I do not miss the lines or parking lots or fruitless searches for products that are out of stock.

Do I miss interacting with strangers? I’m not sure, to be honest. I want to believe in the power of Main St or Town Square to bring communities together, but communities today are so different than they were before telecommunications and rapid transportation. These days I speak to my parents, who live 3,000 miles away, more than I speak to my neighbors.

I can easily forsee a day, in the near future, where we never need to leave the house on an errand. It makes me wonder if the “on-demand economy” is a result of our cultural laziness or if it’s a natural evolution of the density of urban life. Or perhaps it’s just a side effect of the relentless march of technology. In a economy where many retail stores are replaced by technology driven delivery services, does it not make sense that those retail jobs will be replaced with delivery jobs? Put another way, if technological advancement is freeing labor from one pursuit does it not make sense it would employ it in another?

Eventually, I have no doubt that many of these delivery services will employ drones to deliver my food/toilet paper/books. Drone technology is evolving so quickly and the price dropping so fast that it will become cost prohibitive to pay a person to deliver something instead of a drone. When that happens, we will once again hear about how technology is destroying delivery jobs even though technology enabled them to grow in the first place.

The good news is then we’ll need people to staff the drone hangars, since there will be thousands of drones hovering over our cities. I wonder how well those jobs will pay.


 Image made available via Creative Commons on Wikipedia.