Why Does This All Just Fucking Suck So Much?

Updated: Dec 9, 2021


It does feel like we’re living in a pre-determined simulation when all the sudden something out of nowhere goes from not existing to just being everywhere at once, like a previously unmentioned new sitcom character being introduced at the start of a new season. I am of course talking about the by my calculations 47 indistinguishable fucking 15-minute delivery apps that sprang up seemingly overnight and whose bright, garish logos now litter bus shelter ads, delivery drivers’ backpacks, and previously vacant commercial spaces. (This may or may not be specific to NYC, I have no idea whether this exists in other cities, I assume this has been San Francisco’s way of doing all retail transactions for years now given that those freaks love to be on the cutting edge of whatever new terrible business model is up next) Where did they come from? Did the international pedophile illuminati cabal that oversees all business and political decisions around the world have a meeting and decided this was gonna be the new strategy for Q4?

But in all seriousness, what purpose do these (again something like 36 completely identical) startups even serve? For those of us that live in New York, you’d know that a lack of access to quick groceries is not only one of the least pressing needs in the city, but not even somewhat of a problem at all. Due to, you know, having a fucking bodega or deli or small grocery store on literally every single street corner. As I write this from my East Village apartment, there are quite literally 5 of such establishments that I can access without walking more than a block in any direction. And this isn’t a luxury reserved for only the millennial gentrifier neighborhoods, in fact quite the opposite: whereas I’m spoiled to have these establishments within walking distance in addition to farmers markets, big box grocery stores like Trader Joes, and the like, deeper into the boroughs in the less trendy neighborhoods that lack a Whole Foods or TJs, these bodegas often act as the main food supplier for a particular area. They’re such an intrinsic part of NYC life that it was one of the first things Andrew Yang tried to bumble his way into during his moronic mayoral run. And it's not like these apps are non-profits aiming to bring fresh produce to food deserts anyways; while some have begun to expand to areas in the Bronx and Brooklyn, they mostly remain clustered in wealthy, Manhattan neighborhoods like Chelsea or FiDi. New York, a city that I was born and have lived almost my whole life in, despite being the unquestionably best city in America, has many problems, namely: a lack of affordable housing, a bloated and overmilitarized police force, an underfunded public school system, etc. Absolutely nowhere on that list of problems was how hard it is to get groceries quickly.

You wouldn’t believe that though judging from the amount of money pouring in from VC firms. Buyk has raised $46 million from investors. JOKR, a staggering $170 million. Gorillas, the German delivery app promising 10 minutes or less wait times, raised an unthinkable $1 billion with a B dollars. Clearly the people with enough money to dump the GDP of a small island nation into a nascent company think this is one of the most pressing issues facing the residents of New York City, and enough of them think this to fund the 28 or however many indistinguishable versions that seem to exist. The finest minds in technology and business have come together at last to rid us of ever having to wait more than 15 minutes to get bananas once and for all.

Which I mean, doesn’t all this just piss you off and depress you on a deeply spiritual level? Maybe you’re normal and don’t think about these things and so it doesn’t. But during a time when income inequality is at its highest point ever, where necessary medical treatments cost years of salary for the insured and uninsured alike, where it’s now impossible for all but the wealthiest to attend a four year college without accruing crippling lifetime debt, where owning a home has never been a more remote possibility for a majority of young people, isn’t it just horrifically mind numbing and grotesque to watch the ultrarich dump the equivalent of the yearly state budget of New Mexico into a problem that wasn’t a problem at all? Who is benefiting from these companies?

As we’ve just covered, not the customer in any way since this is a solution to a problem that literally didn’t previously exist. Not local small businesses like the bodegas who now find their market cut into and their entire business threatened in a way that not even the pandemic could. Certainly not the workers, who either earn minimum wage (despite NYC’s minimum wage being one of the highest in the country it’s still an unlivable income rate due to the astronomical cost of living) or work in some convoluted gig-economy setup, offering them no protections or benefits afforded to traditional employees and paying rates equivalent to starvation wages. This is a business model meant solely to enrich its investors, and it might not even do that since there’s no chance every one of these identical corporations survives.

Which you know, given that this is how a majority of post-war American corporations have operated, it might not be as dispiriting as it is if every one of these goddam companies didn’t act like they were singlehandedly saving the world. I mean hell, 1980s Wall St types at least were just open about being greedy; you didn’t see Gordon Gecko acting like his deals were solving society’s ills. But with this endless parade of juggernaut tech startups that do nothing but enrich the already ultrarich we have to hear that every single goddam one of them is singlehandedly fixing the world’s problems via algorithms. The false promises of tech and the death of optimism about the industry have been well documented: a decade after being forced to read clueless op-eds that Twitter and Facebook were helping spring revolutionary fervor in the Arab world I think the majority of us are now aware that technology will not save us and a solidly growing percentage of us probably have a more negative than positive opinion on many of these companies. Almost anyone at every end of the political spectrum possesses some sort of negative opinions on social media, liberals that Russian disinformation cost Hillary her presidency, conservatives that idk Trump’s voice is being silenced I guess.

It’s a disarmingly simple task, but ask yourself: when is the last time a tech startup actually did fix a problem that needed fixing in society? This was posed recently on Twitter (yes I appreciate the irony of highlighting social media discourse in an article blasting big tech, my response being I don’t care suck a dick) and the only example people could come up with was Shazam. Which I mean, yeah, people did use to get frustrated when they didn’t know what song was playing, now there’s an app for that, good job on that one tech. Beyond that, the past 20 years are littered with disturbing examples of the tech industry marching into a sector and making it worse for all involved.

The highest profile example of this in recent years is of course Uber and Lyft, who barged into NYC’s thriving taxi industry with the promise to streamline transportation for the modern age. No more flailing your arm out to hail a cab! Now there’s an app for that! Overnight, these companies flooded the streets with new, unregulated cars, undercutting the heavily regulated yellow cabs that consisted almost entirely of independent owner/operators. After years of the city carefully limiting the number of cabs allowed on streets, now anyone with a smartphone could take up the job, and traffic soared to levels not seen since the heyday of Robert Moses. Taxi ridership dropped off a cliff due to this new competition. Drivers who had sunk their life savings into investing in their cars with the promise that they’d always be able to work their debt off now had no hope of ever making that money back. Suicides amongst drivers rose sharply.

And the new workforce that was replacing them? They represented the new model of doing business: classifying these new gig workers as independent contractors to avoid paying them a livable wage, giving them benefits, offering workplace protections, etc. Uber and Lyft would spend hundreds of millions of dollars in dirty PR lobbying campaigns to ensure the laws in various states wouldn’t ever force them to actually pay their employees. And whereas Uber had originally pitched itself as a side gig for people with cars to make some extra money, that has since given way to a business model where the majority of drivers are people who didn’t have cars to begin with, and instead are trapped into predatory leasing agreements with these same companies, meaning that a typical driver starts off the day in debt to his own employer.

So what was the final product that was supposedly worth all this destruction wracked on the New York working class? In 2021, Uber prices have risen to staggering degrees completely outpacing normal inflationary price increases. It now costs as much to take an Uber to the airport as it once did only a few years ago to make the same trip via helicopter. As previously mentioned, the streets are now flooded with a deluge of cars, making transportation within NYC not only prohibitively more expensive but also more inconvenient. And Uber itself? After promising for a decade that self-driving cars were right on the horizon, the company in 2020 quietly admitted defeat in that arena, selling off that sector of their business, forced to admit that the tech was simply not there yet. As it became apparent that Uber’s entire business model relied on one day completely cutting out drivers and fully transitioning to an automated fleet, many commentators now note that the company has almost no route to ever being profitable.

To sum up: the company that for years has served as the pinnacle of this new age in tech where startups were saving the world via algorithm (if you need proof of this level of esteem think on the untold number of other startups that describe themselves as “the Uber of blank”) destroyed a thriving industry, shanghaied a brand-new workforce into basically indentured servitude, made its core service worse and more expensive for the consumer, and is itself a doomed behemoth with no road to profitability. With all that being said, is there any reason to expect this model to produce anything but the same result in fields like grocery delivery? If there’s any positive news, it’s that people have seemed more attune to this reality from the beginning and the pushback to these companies popping up out of nowhere has been much more instant and visible than in past cases. Even Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a staunchly middle of the road establishment politician who along with Mayor DeBlasio and City Council President Corey Johnson sat by while Uber wreaked havoc on their city’s taxi industry, said of this new model: “Who the hell needs an apple in 15 minutes?” she said. “If you want something in 15 minutes, go to the store.”

The maddening thing is that this formula seems to still run identically even in cases where tech is addressing a very real problem in desperate need of an innovative solution. Take the perhaps less glaringly in your face but still noticeable trend of boutique-style glam healthcare providers and dentist offices that have similarly sprang up seemingly overnight in the last year or so. The aesthetic will be instantly recognizable to anyone who’s walked through boujie neighborhoods like Chelsea or SoHo recently: dentist waiting rooms that look more like Glossier boutiques than medical facilities, walls lined with soft, pastel-toned ads featuring smiling, biracial models, usually sporting some one-word company name like “Brush” or “Smyle”. Because in an era where healthcare costs have risen to such staggering degrees unthinkable to the rest of the world, where even those of us lucky to be insured often pay hundreds of dollars a month for plans that don’t even include dental, the main problem in this industry was definitely a distinct lack of chic waiting room décor. I mean good god what the fuck is this shit:

Or take the restaurant industry, one near and dear to my heart due to my years as a bartender, which struggled perhaps more than any sector during the pandemic and turned to delivery apps like Grubhub and Caviar to save their flailing businesses. As people locked themselves in their homes, food deliveries rose to staggering levels. But again, who is actually benefitting from all this? A deep dive into these companies’ business models showed that their contracts with restaurants were so predatory and one-sided that due to the already razor-thin margins in food service, restaurants often lost money on their relationships with these apps. But what was the alternative? Taking your restaurant off these platforms meant dooming yourself to exile and irrelevancy.

Even as people have returned to restaurants en masse, food delivery is bigger than ever, with some stores even switching over to a ghost kitchen model, cutting out the store part entirely and serving solely as a conduit for Doordash pickups. Which again, doesn’t that just make you feel uneasy and gross and bummed out about the world? Is the reality where restaurants have been eliminated and all food consumption takes place via quick, efficient drive-through transactions really one we want to live in? And certainly, as is always the case with any of these new models, it’s the workers that get squeezed the hardest. Delivery drivers toil in brutally long shifts no matter the weather, receiving, of course, starvation wages and no benefits in exchange for their troubles. You may be wondering why someone would willingly enter into such a shitty and exploitative employment agreement. The answer is simple: having a shitty job as much as it sucks, doesn’t suck as much as the prospect of not having a shitty job. Everyone's gotta survive somehow.

So that’s where we’re at as we approach 2022. We’ve allowed Big Tech to slam the door shut on the already declining possibility of an American middle class living. Instead, we’ve driven class distinctions even sharper, creating a professional Zoom class, who sit behind a laptop and dial in remotely to their digital marketing jobs, and a lower class consisting of an out of sight out of mind group of servants. A Guatemalan immigrant now brings you your pho, carts your Trader Joes order, and ferries you to a happy hour event, and you reward him for staying out of your sightline during all these transactions with a $2 tip. Because that is really the purpose that these company’s streamlined way of doing business serves: it accelerates the Zoom class’s othering of the people who wait hand and toe on them. It’s easier to not feel guilty about indentured servants being paid starvation wages to take care of you when everything is done through an app. Sure you might read a story here or there about how little a delivery driver makes, but on the other hand it’s so easy to order crab rangoon from your couch. This isn’t really anything new in American society, it’s just an evolved form of the practice of restless economic expansion at the cost of oppression that’s been going on since the country’s inception.

But the one main difference is that it now seems to pretty much suck for everyone involved. I mean look around, does anyone seem particularly happy about all this to you? Does anyone really, earnestly gush about how much they love the convenience of not having to put on pants to order Korean tacos or how it now costs $37 not including tip to get across Manhattan? The result of this crush on the working class by these mammoth tech companies is that people who work for a social media advertising firm run by the daughter of a Sackler and make 65k a year to barely afford a studio in Greenpoint just now have an extra thing to complain about when their chicken tikka masala takes an hour and a half to arrive. The robber barons of yore brutally exploited a workforce, confining them to punishingly long shifts at factories, railroads, coal mines, etc. But hell at least society got some Carnegie Halls out of it. What’s all this wealth redistribution towards the pockets of Silicon Valley VC’s going to? A million identical companies called something like Flubr plastering their millennial pink adds on every inch of the Bedford Ave L train stop. The future was supposed to have flying cars; instead, you have a button in your phone that can take you to from the East Village to Chelsea in 37 minutes and costs $41. It. Just. All. Sucks. Lol.

So yeah idk how to really wrap this up. I don’t think anyone beyond the fake journalist blue checks that get paid to write vapid sponsored puff pieces in Vulture about these companies are actually excited about any of this. No one beyond a couple dozen already unfathomably wealthy idiots are making any money off it, and every small business in every possible sector will eventually just get swallowed up by Amazon while the government does nothing. To be honest the only good tech startup ever was Moviepass, a company so inept and so unable to formulate a coherent business plan that the end product was essentially just a mass redistribution of wealth away from investors towards the pockets of consumers allowing them to see Phantom Thread as many times as they wanted practically for free. If your job entitles you to some sort of a decision-making role in one of these money spouts, please push for more startups like this that basically amount to defrauding investors into giving people money to go do shit for free for a few months before the people in charge catch on. If you can’t do that, idk just at least go to your fucking corner bodega to get milk instead of ordering it from a company called Bunglr or whatever I mean have some self-respect.