The 2008 Pixar film “Wall-E” depicted a society of immensely overweight individuals, inseparable from their self-driving, hovering chairs they were whisked around in as they exchanged instant messages and watched movies on holographic screens.
These movie characters were not obligated to lift a finger as they went about their daily routines. While these individuals live in a dystopian world, concerns arise when considering whether their society could be a representation of what is in store for our future.
Using technology to improve our lives is imperative to progress in our society. It eliminates busy work, opening up windows of time for us to think, create and engage with the world.
However, the direction technology has taken poses a dangerous threat to our future, one where the entirety of our life passes from behind the screen of a device. By allowing technology to grab hold of the reins of our lives, we have dropped them completely; one by one, we remove pieces of our daily routine and replace them with alternatives in which we are disproportionately inactive.
The first item of concern — the way technology has transformed consumer access to food — starts with companies competing to keep people away from grocery stores. With the rise of Instacart and the implementation of Google Express and Amazon Fresh Grocery, making the trip to the supermarket is no longer necessary.
Consumers can select the groceries they would like delivered to their home by simply opening up a laptop or a mobile phone, and within two hours, the items will appear on their doorstep.
“We use Google Express to order cereal and ordinary supplies like cleaners, toilet paper [and] paper towels. It makes my family’s life easier because essentially, someone else does our simple errand running.”
Paly Science teacher Alicia Szebert said she has observed these practices in her everyday life.
“I live in San Francisco in an apartment complex with 300 different occupied units, and I barely see anybody,” Szebert said. “Everyone is just in their apartment; their groceries get delivered with Instacart and [they] can even have their meals sent directly to them.”
While many individuals still opt to make the trip to the grocery store, it is plausible to imagine a near future in which delivered groceries have become the norm.
Take this up a notch, and BlueApron is ready to serve as the largest meal kit provider in the United States. A “meal kit provider” is a nuanced concept that details chopped and portioned ingredients that are arranged and delivered to one’s doorstep, along with a step-by-step recipe.
Mountain View High School parent Karen Fitch is a frequent user of another primary meal kit provider, Gobble. As a single, working parent, she finds the service invaluable.
“[Gobble] is convenient because I don’t have to think about what I should cook for dinner or go grocery shopping for those ingredients. I think that it’s convenient enough that more working families will want to try it out.”
In addition to BlueApron and Gobble, companies such as Green Chef and Purple Carrot have enabled the meal kit provider industry to accumulate an estimated $10 billion in combined revenue, according to Statista.
The increasing popularity of the meal kit provider industry helps establish this system could replace cooking as we know it.
Once consumers become accustomed to receiving previously prepared ingredients, the custom of chopping vegetables by hand will fade away completely.
Generation Z has no obligation to learn how to properly cook meals with the vast range of services available to them. This industry will continue to grow, until eventually, cooking will become a long-forgotten custom of the past.
One step further, and DoorDash, Postmates and UberEats are at your service. While takeout delivery has existed for a long time, the compilation of all nearby restaurants’ offerings into a single platform is a new concept.
The concept of errand running will slowly fade away as customers become accustomed to purchasing every small item online, and as delivery services improve, reducing the time it takes for the product to arrive.
With fewer people out and about running errands, human interaction as a whole decreases. In today’s world, of the communication that does occur, it is more commonly executed through text messaging, voice calls and Facetime than ever before.
Daniel, an employee from Uber, whose name has been changed to preserve his anonymity, said he frequently observes this phenomenon in his workplace.
“We work in a building with employees spread out among six different floors,” Daniel said. “Oftentimes, rather than shifting floors to meet in person, I noticed that people just meet via video call for convenience.”
Szebert’s main concern is technology will be used to construct replacements for schooling, which in her opinion, is invaluable and can not be substituted.
“High school is so important, because those are four years where you’re going to school every day and you’re forced to interact with people every day,” Szebert said. “If people start staying at home for schooling because great new online homeschooling programs arise, just sitting at their computer and talking to nobody, they will really lose out.”
Szebert said this issue is not only applicable to high school students, but also to young children.
“Social skills start with kids, so we have to make sure that the youth to go to daycare, allowing them to spend time around other children,” Szebert said. “Those are the kind of skills that no one can teach you.”
So where is the line drawn between removing busy work and replacing every single day to day task? It is difficult to see how ordering a gallon of milk on Instacart instead of picking it up at the supermarket could raise an issue; however, the problem becomes more apparent from a bird’s eye view, when one takes into account the effects of the combination of these practices.
We claim to use advances in technology to move forward and increase our interaction with the world, but it in practice keeps us holed up and isolated in our houses, our activity and engagement levels declining rapidly.
“Right now, not having to leave the house to complete tasks is still a new thing, so I don’t think the negative effects are as clear yet,” Szebert said. “If and when it gets even more exaggerated, it could be a serious problem.”