A couple of weeks back, on a similarly slow summer Saturday, I took a few moments to not lament about what it wrong or praise what little is right about my primary industry of choice and spent a few moments instead lamenting about the challenges of navigating the one that a sequence of unfortunate events have forced me to become expert about. The rideshare industry and its one-way faceless, dehumanizing “litigation” of how baseless complaints against drivers are handled, and how yours truly became one of the latest “deactivated” victims. The Los Angeles Times did a thoughtful piece on this around the same time, and it was both informative and sympathetic.
Well, I’m relieved to say that after a scare from a similarly unreasonable store owner’s pettiness, I remain in the good graces of DoorDash, because a) actual human beings speak to you when you’re victimized by such incidents and b) they seem to respect their valued employees, gig or not. So I’m still earning a few very very needed dollars. But far fewer than I earned by interacting with humans, and, I fear, not for long.
I took a couple of shifts recently out of necessity, and began to notice that almost every order insisted upon contactless delivery. You know, the ones with the robotic instructions “enter the building with the code, take a photo of the package dropped outside the door so that the surroundings are clearly seen and send to the customer”? Where I deliver, this now seems to be the order of the day, even more than the small impulse purchases from fast food joints and, occasionally, only slightly healthier ethnic takeout places offer these faceless customers. I don’t even get the chance to smile and thank them for giving me a chance to earn a living, and perhaps to even ask for a five-star review. You know, the ones that 99 per cent of my human passengers were giving me before I was deactivated.
Seems that when people can live their lives behind closed doors and use their phone on command, they can also avoid having to be confronted by even the thought of the fact that another human being with feelings and a need for human contact battled traffic, security code failures and occasionally harassing homeless people to actually bring their impulse purchases to them. And, of course, avoid any chance at remorse for not tipping. Which is what has consistently happened to me of late.
And as I battle that traffic, in the areas I service, I’ve now been seeing more and more examples of what the future will look like for my industry. Delivery robots navigate many of the streets I drive, puttering around like bastard children of Artoo-Detoo, and attracting more “oohs” and observations from dog-walkers and yes, harassing homeless people, than anything else on these streets. As Wikipedia confirmed, these autonomous gig replacements have become more ubiquitous, and an increasingly popular feature of delivery companies, in recent years, and it appears we have a generation of consumers who are being educated to believe this is what we should expect:
By January 2019, there were some deployments on United States college campuses. George Mason University became the first university campus that incorporated on-demand food deliveries by robots as part of its meal plan with 25 robot fleet from Starship Technologies. As the pandemic continued on, demands for food deliveries had increased significantly. This caused the demands for food delivery robots in college campuses to surge as well. Starship and other companies such as Kiwibot deployed hundreds of food delivery robots to several college campuses and some city streets in the United States and United Kingdom.
So when the same Los Angeles Times and their team of intrepid COVID reporters such as our dear San Francisco-based Rong-Gong Lin II, the agent for a failing daily owned by Patrick Soon-Chiong, published this “update” yesterday on the heels of this reality check, with this actual headline emblazoned on the unavoidable front page placement, it caused my blood pressure to spike a few points:
Summer brings COVID-19 uptick amid renewed travel, socializing. How bad will it get?
Summer has brought an uptick in coronavirus transmission, but experts say it is still too early to tell whether the upswing represents a significant public health concern.
The U.S. recorded a 10% increase in new COVID-19 hospital admissions for the week that ended July 15 compared with the previous seven-day period. Still, hospitalizations remain near a record low for the pandemic.
Rong-Gong literally can’t even finish a paragraph without self-contradiction, but yet he and the Times continue to flail at finding some sort of narrative from some “credible expert” to justify that sort of inflammatory headline. To wit:
Experts and officials say it’s not surprising that a summer coronavirus uptick has arrived, given seasonal patterns in recent years.
Travel has also roared back from pandemic-era lows. The Transportation Security Administration recently said that, nationally, June 30 was the busiest day ever for the agency’s operations, exceeding the previous record set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019.
And as vacations and conferences return, with most people having shed masks, chances for infection have increased.
This comes at a time when people’s collective immunity is waning,” said UC San Francisco infectious-disease expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong. “So it’s kind of like the force field is weaker, so to speak.”
The rise in viral transmission will increase the risk of people being exposed to someone who is contagious. Chin-Hong said he’s heard of a number of people who have never had COVID-19 before who are getting it now.
“If you have more people transmitting stuff around — and particularly if few people are testing — then people who haven’t gotten it before will continue to get it,” he said. “Many people will do well, but some of those people, statistically speaking, won’t.”
Great. Anecdotal evidence and pandering Captain Obvious lecturing to support a campaign from a whole lot of multi-hyphenated people who seem to believe a photo from a convention is “Code Red”.
So I suppose I should be encouraged that anyone who actually does pay attention will be that much more likely to hunker down as my customers do and rediscover the “joys” of isolation, working from home, cuddled with the significant others and their pets, Netflixing and chilling, perhaps even wearing masks to do chores around the house while they tap away and dispatch for drones like myself to nourish them on command. Could be good for my bottom line. Unless, of course, my RIA “colleagues” become more economically desirable for the process.
Maybe I’m a bit more sensitive because as Wiki concludes, and as I see from the reactions of passers-by, these delivery robots actually seem to elicit more emotion that I do:
Being autonomous, the delivery robots primarily interact with the general public without the assistance of a human operator, in both positive and negative encounters. The delivery robot manufacturer Starship Technologies has reported that people kick their robots. However, the vast majority of human interactions are positive, and many people have anthropomorphized the robots due to their appearance. This has led to encounters where people feel a sense of caring towards the robots, assisting the robots when they are stuck, worrying for the robots on their journeys, or praising or thanking robots for their delivery service.
We could all use a little help and praise, you know. And some of us are capable–no, actually, we feel COMPELLED–to express gratitude when it does occur.
But none will be forthcoming for our fear-mongering champion Rong-Gong and those who give him a path to publish this sort of panic-inducing slanted “coverage” on a regular basis.
Earlier in the week, the Los Angeles Daily News published an editorial that took to task how statements from the office of county health director Barbara Ferrer–you remember, my funny quaran-tine?–continued to release weekly updates with cumulative data totals on deaths and infections going back more than three years, with only parenthetical references to the trends that time and, yes, vaccines have contributed since then. Hey, Babs still wants to keep her cushy gig, so who can blame her for at least trying? Thankfully, the Daily News pointed out it’s high time we stop being reminded of what was, and focus on what IS.
Yes, COVID exists. Some who do have some pre-existing conditions may need to be a bit more cautious. No one, certainly not I, is going to cling to conspiracy theories that try and connect what happened to Demar Hamlin and Bronny James to vaccines. But it is equally as irresponsible to suggest that hanging on like a barnacle to a world and a lifestyle that has caused far more psychological damage to a generation weaned on robot food delivery being a way of life is something we should continue to aspire to.
The way I see it, the more people want to go out to eat, or even cook for themselves, it might mean less opportunities for gig work. But it also might put us a notch closer to a chance for a more reliable and human-facing–and better-paying existence.
So thank you, DoorDash and thank you, Daily News. You give me some reason for a smidge of optimism at a time when, bluntly, I need it.
Because it’s the end of yet another isolated month, and you probably know by now what that means for me, Especially when tips aren’t plentiful.
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Until next time…