When you look around at the things in New York that you think need some big changes, what do you think of? A solution to our absurd rent crisis? An end to the unequal and racist treatment of pot smokers by prosecutors? How about a way to promote democracy and make sure it actually works? All good options, but because my brain is stuffed full of tiny demons that are carving DISRUPT onto all of my neural networks, all I’m actually hearing is that our most pressing need is to “replace bodegas with cabinets that spy on you.” Fortunately, two guys stuffed to the gills with VC money are explicitly planning that.
If you’re one of those assholes who complain about bodega cats, then today’s big news from Fast Company is just what you’re looking for: two former Google staffers are launching a bold new way to disrupt the existence of corner stores with fully-stocked “smart” cabinets they put in your apartment lobbies. It hasn’t appeared in NYC yet, but they call the company Bodega because yes in fact you can raise enough VC cash to kill your shame, and yes you better believe that they have a promo picture of two overjoyed consumers delightfully looking at a Bodega, thrilled that they don’t need to actually go experience the city they live in:
The whole plot to further destabilize the social structure of the city and turn us all into Prime button-smashing, Soylent-drinking drones is courtesy of Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan, who are hoping that their cabinets full of non-perishable goods that they stick in apartment buildings will make them fat and rich. The cabinets themselves, which are unlocked with an app and “run” by cameras that can register what you grab and just charge your credit card, can’t make you a bacon egg and cheese, but I again remind you that there is serious money behind a product that’s supposed to replace the joy of eating food.
“Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you,” McDonald told Fast Company, presenting one of those sociopathic human interaction-free visions of the future Silicon Valley seems to delight in so much.
Bodega isn’t offensive because of the name, or the clearly exploitative logistics model it’s going to rely on or because it’s going to put increased pressure on immigrant-owned businesses already struggling with insane rents. Or, actually I guess it is offensive because of all that. But Bodega is also yet another instance of tech industry brain geniuses pitching us alienation disguised as convenience. Don’t go the movie theater and experience a film with other people, stay home and watch a Netflix original. Don’t go to the store to look at clothing, get your outfits delivered to you by Stitch Fix. Don’t go to the bodega to get a breakfast sandwich and talk with the counter guy while you flip through that day’s newspaper, go to your lobby and grab a meal replacement from Bodega. Don’t live life encumbered by the possibility of the unknown and unfamiliar that occurs when you leave the house, have everything you want delivered to you by a drone.
None of this is to say that bodegas are morally superior to any other kind of store, or don’t sometimes fall short of what you need from a corner store. There was one under an apartment where I lived that just didn’t have milk sometimes; it was weird. But if you’re moving here and not even making the barest effort to interact with your environment, preferring to cloister yourself in the kind of life where everything is brought to you on demand and even your friends are picked for you by a real estate company, what are you doing here?