Why [Robin Sloan] quit ordering from Uber-for-food startups

Another writer picks up on a topic I wrote about back in March:

I feel bad, truly, for Amazon and Sprig and their many peers—SpoonRocket, Postmates, Munchery, and the rest. They build these complicated systems and then they have to hide them, because the way they treat humans is at best mildly depressing and at worst burn-it-down dystopian.

What would it be like if you didn’t have to hide the system?


Meals from Josephine are not available for delivery.

On the day of your order, a text message arrives bearing a street address. You ride over on your bicycle and spot a Josephine sign taped to the front door, which is ajar. You step inside; the feeling is both clandestine and transgressive. In the kitchen, the cook—your neighbor—is working. Maybe another customer—also your neighbor—is lingering. You announce yourself, say hello, receive your meal. Chat a bit, if you like. Carry it home in a bag dangling from your handlebars.

Read Why I quit ordering from Uber-for-food startups {The Atlantic}

The Guilt of Delivery

I don’t like ordering food when it’s snowing, raining, or ever really. It’s lazy, unhealthy (the not moving and the food part), and it makes me feel guilty. I can afford to order cookies and ice cream and get it delivered to my house and that just sounds absurd. Maybe it’s because I grew up in home situated in a fairly rural area, overseen by a mom who would never order such things. She would make them herself, damn it.

It’s also weird because I see how waiters and waitresses are sometimes treated poorly in restaurants, and that makes me feel guilty for taking the services of someone who probably isn’t working their dream job.

Or maybe they are, who am I to judge. This isn’t about me.

I’ve been thinking about this recently since I’m busier and thus, order food more often. And the smartphone makes the process of ordering things a whole lot more convenient. And now it’s happening to everything. Not only can you get pretty much anything delivered from Seamless or Instacart or whatever—you can also pay people to do pretty much anything for you with services like TaskRabbit.

Which leads me to this article, The Shut-In Economy. It illuminates something I was trying to get at… that it’s good my mom made stuff for us and didn’t rely on other people to make things for us.

The luxuries usually afforded to one-percenters now stretch to the urban upper-middle class, or so the technology industry cheers. But can you democratize the province of the rich without getting a new class acting, well, entitled? My parents made me put away the dishes not to “outsource” their workload — they could have done it faster. They did it so I wouldn’t turn out to be a brat.

After all, either you’re behind the door, receiving your dinner in the tower. Or you’re like the food delivery guy who, while checking in with the concierge, said, “This is my dream place to live.” He’s the opposite of a shut-in. He’s stuck outside, hustling.

Check out the article (posted on Medium, incidentally…).

Friday Link List

1. How Green Is Telecommuting? {andrew sullivan}.

I doubt the premise of this article based on my personal experience, but it’s an interesting observation, if true:

It might … be that, contrary to some early expectations, telecommuting is not necessarily good for the environment. A 2011 article in the Annals of Regional Science found that, on average, telecommuters end up putting in more travel—on both nonwork-and work-related trips—than those who don’t telecommute. In other words, that they don’t drive to work doesn’t mean that they drive less overall. As Pengyu Zhu, the article’s author, put it, “the hopes of planners and policymakers who expected the promotion of telecommuting programs to substitute for face-to-face interactions and thus reduce traditional travels remains largely unmet.”

I hardly ever drive my car save for my commute to work, so my ability to telecommute saves me two long drives every week. I have a hunch that those who telecommute and end up driving the the same amount (if not more) are also living typical suburban lives. A similar study could be done across all non-urban dwellers who drive to work whether or not they telecommute. Suburbanites don’t just drive to work, they also shop and pick up the kids from school, too.


2. Caffeinated Seas Found off U.S. Pacific Northwest {national geographic; via stephen marche}.

The Pacific Northwest may be the epicenter of U.S. coffee culture, and now a new study shows the region’s elevated caffeine levels don’t stop at the shoreline.

The discovery of caffeine pollution in the Pacific Ocean off Oregon is further evidence that contaminants in human waste are entering natural water systems, with unknown consequences for wildlife and humans alike, experts say.


3. In Praise of Urban Density {andrew sullivan}.

The denser the city, the more productive, efficient and powerful it becomes. The theoretical physicists, Luis Bettencourt and Geoffrey West calculated that if the population of a city is doubled, average wages go up by 15%, as do other measures of productivity, like patents per capita. Economic output of a city of 10 million people will be 15-20% higher than that of two cities of 5 million people. Incomes are on average five times higher in urbanised countries with a largely rural population. And at the same time, resource use and carbon emissions plummet by 15% for every doubling in density, because of more efficient use of infrastructure and better use of public transportation.

Riding on the Sidewalk

I had an encounter with a local journalist today, a man who is notorious in Philly for his articles bashing bike lanes that give over precious streets for just 2% of road users. He did not introduce himself as the person I later deduced it likely was; so I’m leaving his identity and his publicly held beliefs out of this.

I learned two things from the impromptu discussion we had.

1) If you politely brush over areas on which you will never agree, you can find a real middle ground that I think is helpful for moving the larger discussion forward. When you steer the conversation away from ideology and stop talking in terms of preëxisting political narratives and stereotypes, you can communicate like two human beings.

2) I’m always right and anyone who thinks bicycling in cities is a bad thing is an idiot.

OK, so here’s how the conversation started. I ride my bike west on Arch street from Old City coffee on 2nd & Church to my internship at WHYY on 6th. As you can see from the map below, 6th runs south, so I’d need to go three blocks out of the way to get to my destination. Yes, this calculation makes me lazy.

Yesterday, I decided that I could ride on the sidewalk on 6th for half a block, on a huge sidewalk that I’ve literally never seen anybody walking on before. This was my second day doing this. I almost always walk, not ride, my bike on the sidewalk. I get pissed at people riding on the sidewalk while I’m walking too.

So this guy stopped me as I was locking up, in a totally cool manner, and asked if I ride on the sidewalk often, and what I think about it. I said no, that I normally walk. But I noticed yesterday that this particular stretch is never used. He went out of his way to ensure that he wasn’t busting me or calling me out or any tough guy bravado like that. I still had my u-lock in my hands: “what if this guy was a nut?” I was less-than-subconsciously thinking.

He asked me if I thought a higher fine for getting pulled over for riding on the sidewalk would help deter people (it’s now $50; there have been proposals to hike the ticket price up to $300). I said no, we need equal enforcement for all vehicles; targeting bikes for moving violations while drivers get off doing the same in a 2 ton speeding hunk of metal is ridiculous. He seemed to agree, sort of, and the conversation waned off.

I get the sense that this guy has started off with every argument against biking he could fathom (they slow down traffic!; hipsters suck!; only socialists ride bikes!) , and the only one that has stuck is the sidewalk thing. Which is a pretty pathetic concern, in the grand scheme of things.

We exchanged simple pleasantries and went on our ways. After I got to a computer and checked out the guy’s picture online, I was sort of kicking myself for not being more in his face about stuff, and for not calling him out on his past anti-bike rhetoric. But at the end of the day, two complete strangers had an educated and civil conversation about bikes, police enforcement, the roles of government and non-profits, which is a good thing. We can yell at each other some other day.