The cost of convenience

An interesting critique of the ‘Uber-for-X’ business model so favoured, still, by Silicon Valley. The gains are so marginal, compared to the wider impact of these businesses.

The servant economy
The haves and the have-nots might be given new names: the demanding and the on-demand. These apps concretize the wild differences that the global economy currently assigns to the value of different kinds of labor. Some people’s time and effort are worth hundreds of times less than other people’s. The widening gap between the new American aristocracy and everyone else is what drives both the supply and demand of Uber-for-X companies.

The inequalities of capitalist economies are not exactly news. As my colleague Esther Bloom pointed out, “For centuries, a woman’s social status was clear-cut: either she had a maid or she was one.” Domestic servants—to walk the dog, do the laundry, clean the house, get groceries—were a fixture of life in America well into the 20th century. In the short-lived narrowing of economic fortunes wrapped around the Second World War that created what Americans think of as “the middle class,” servants became far less common, even as dual-income families became more the norm and the hours Americans worked lengthened.

What the combined efforts of the Uber-for-X companies created is a new form of servant, one distributed through complex markets to thousands of different people. It was Uber, after all, that launched with the idea of becoming “everyone’s private driver,” a chauffeur for all.

An unkind summary, then, of the past half decade of the consumer internet: Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work that deliver on-demand servant services to rich people, while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance.

(Via)

Hanging on

Typewriters are still around, and thankfully so too are some of the typewriter repair shop.

This typewriter repairman was told computers were king. Twenty years later, he’s still in business
But Quezada’s admiration for the machine is clear. The Underwood and its kind “are like Mercedes, like Rolls Royces,” he said. They belong to an era before planned obsolescence, when people did not just replace, but repaired, what they owned.

Unlike the pager, the PDA, the floppy disk and the VCR, the typewriter has escaped the heap of gadgets defunct and disused. The reason, according to Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission and typewriter collector: Its slow pace is meditative, not frustrating, an exercise in deliberateness closer to engraving than typing on a computer.

hanging-on-1

Business isn’t what it was, of course.

When Quezada left his Mexican home state of Chihuahua in 1987 to join his sister in San Gabriel, the shop she owned with her husband — an Italian immigrant who repaired typewriters as a boy in Salerno — had servicing contracts with school districts in San Gabriel, El Monte, Whittier and Alhambra.

In the summer, when students were gone and the schools wanted classrooms full of typewriters repaired, the shop had so much business it had to hire temporary workers, Quezada said.

“Around 1980, every little town had a shop that repaired and sold typewriters. A typewriter was expected to be serviced and repaired, and it was expected to last 20, 30 years.”

Quezada took over the shop in the mid-’90s. It wasn’t long before computers were supplanting the typewriter. Though he’s held on, business gets leaner every year, the new interest notwithstanding.

His door is still open at the moment, at least.

hanging-on-2

International Office Machines

Show me the money

An interesting debate on the merits and drawbacks of our moving towards a cashless society. Yes, it’s super convenient, for both consumers and businesses, but perhaps not for everyone.

‘Cash is just grief’: why shops and bars want to make you pay by card
From contactless payments at self-service supermarket tills to online banking, it can seem like the digitisation of money is inevitable. But cash is proving curiously resilient. Payments UK reports that it is still used in 44% of consumer transactions and, oddly, as the Bank of England has observed, despite the rate of card transactions soaring and the value of cash payments falling by 10% annually, the volume of cash in circulation is at a record high. The number of British people who deal solely in cash – 2.7 million – is also rising. That oddity is often attributed to low interest rates, people hoarding money after the 2008 crash and a booming criminal economy.

Well, it’s good to see at least one economy booming, right?

Businesses can save time and money with card-only payments, and not having cash on the premises is safer too, but perhaps they like the way we’re more likely to spend more, too?

In a 2016 survey by the financial technology firm ClearScore, 59% of people blamed their overspending on using cards and 72% said that contactless payments make them prone to impulse purchases. […]

“The haptic, physical sensation of handling and spending a £20 note makes you ‘feel it’. With cashless, that is lost somewhat,” says Jez Groom from Cowry Consulting, which researches “behavioural economics”. “The Apple Pay ding you get from your iPhone should be replaced with a vibration calibrated to the amount spent: light for under £10; heavy and consistent for £30.”

Online joke shops are no laughing matter

With a headline that makes me want to respond with, ‘Thank goodness!”, here’s an unusual take on the business behind internet “humour”.

Memes are becoming harder to monetize
“One of the biggest factors in a meme dying is if a meme gets overused,” says Jason Wong, the founder and CEO of a meme-focused e-commerce business called Dank Tank that sells merchandise like Tide Pod socks. “People today are consuming more memes than ever. The expiration date for them has shortened more since even last year. Memes used to last for two to three weeks, but recently we’ve noticed they die after just a few days.”

“It feels like the internet is all moving a lot quicker,” says Samantha Fishbein, the co-founder and COO of Betches Media.

Or maybe we’re getting bored of it all a lot quicker.

Kanban’s can-do attitude?

kanban board

How to apply Kanban thinking at work
At day’s end, review which tasks are in the “Done” column. “If you’ve only finished green tasks, ask yourself: ‘Are those my highest-value tasks? Why am I completing some and not others?’,” says Benson. “Try to identify patterns. That way you can hypothesise solutions, enact them, and test them against the board. The kanban should always be helping you improve.”

Might give this a go. I’ve got lists coming out of my ears, but I’ve been struggling with visualising my overall position on all these projects I’m responsible for.

To be the product, or not to be

In I’m Not The Product, But I Play One On The Internet, Derek Powazek sets us straight on a few assumptions we may be labouring under.

“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

I don’t know who said it first, but the line has achieved a kind of supernatural resonance online. And for good reason – it describes a kind of modern internet company that provides a free service. These businesses are designed to aggregate a large number of users in order to sell that audience’s aggregate attention, usually in the form of advertising.

But the more the line is repeated, the more it gets on my nerves. It has a stoner-like quality to it (“Have you ever looked at your hands? I mean really looked at your hands?”). It reminds me of McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” a phrase that is seemingly deep but collapses into pointlessness the moment you think about using it in any practical way.

Which he does, and now I’m not too sure.