Service apps like Uber, Postmates and Seamless fill a void in the consumer market, and are undoubtedly effective in helping us keep up with the ever-increasing speed of our lives. Most people subscribe to the idea that faster is better and efficiency is its own justification, both of which are truisms in any capitalist society. In fact, looking for ways to get more by doing less seems to have been the mission statement of Western society over the past two centuries. With the advent of the Internet we seem to be doubling down on these maxims, turning to technology and new innovations to streamline our daily lives. By cutting time spent on chores and menial tasks and piling that time into leisure and productivity, we’ve finally seemed to bend the length of the day around our busy schedules. But as these conveniences purport to simplify our lives, we need to be wary of their unadvertised cost: while this may spell deliverance for the socially anxious or habitually lazy, it’s also another nail in the coffin of a once social, interpersonal society. Not only do real interactions afford us the chance to meet people and have real, idiosyncratic conversations, however short or irrelevant, they also remind us that the faceless masses surging around us are indeed made up of individuals.
In response to a collective desire to minimize the daily grind, an entire industry of do-it-for-you services has cropped up with New York as its center. It’s hard to ride the subway or pass a bus stop without seeing an app or service advertisement promising to shoulder the burden of yet another chore. Seamless will bring you breakfast, lunch and dinner at a premium, while FlyCleaners offers pickup and delivery drycleaning at the push of a button, 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Postmates plays courier for anything from groceries to office supplies or a 7-Eleven slurpee with the tap of a button.
And sure, your average interaction with the deli guy in pursuit of that late-night BLT will likely bear very little resemblance to a Socratic dialogue, but there is nonetheless something to be said for small personal interactions we have each day. And while knowing the name of my bodega guy isn’t life-changing, transforming a nameless face into a unique human being is an important, if intangible victory. There is no shortage of credible studies suggesting the link between small social interactions and human happiness, and with each door slammed in the face of some nameless Seamless courier, we sever another small thread that is part of the wide web of interconnectivity that supports our whole society.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this article appeared in the November 23 print edition. Email Jonah Inserra at [email protected]