Thursday, May 22, 2014

Too Busy for Laundry? Please. . .

For you fans of Aldous Huxley – and I think you know who you are – behold what Jessica Pressler writes in the May 21 edition of the New York Magazine, in a feature on Silicon Valley companies that want to do your laundry for you:

We are living in a time of Great Change, and also a time of Not-So-Great Change. The tidal wave of innovation that has swept out from Silicon Valley, transforming the way we communicate, read, shop, and travel, has carried along with it an epic shit-ton of digital flotsam . . . the brightest mind of a generation, the high test-scorers and mathematically inclined, have taken the knowledge acquired at our most august institutions and applied themselves to solving increasingly minor First-World problems.

I’ve written about a few of them: Vests you can wear that give you icky visceral feelings when you read a book. The ability to add sounds and background music to your ebook. The fact that ebooks even exist (though it’s likely I’ll publish one of me own in the next several months).

Pressler paints a fascinating story of young, tech-oriented people looking for ways to make a buck. That I can respect. But none of them appear to want to get their hands dirty. In this “new economy,” everyone is in management. You’ll notice, ever they got venture capital, these folks who came up with the company called Washio bout everything under the sun – a nice office, assistants, etc., -- with which to run a laundry business; everything but, you know, washing machines:

All of a sudden, Washio had $1.3 million – enough to afford a nice office in Santa Monica, spitting distance from shaving-industry disrupter Dollar Shave Club, dating-site disrupter Tinder, and Zuckerberg-disrupter Snapchat, which whom it started a soccer league. Washio did some hiring: engineers, an assistant for Metzner and drivers.

And it gets to feeling that it’s doing Good for society, you know, like this:

Washio does its part to sustain this delusion by pretending not to be a job. Every month, it throws a party for the ninjas, an open bar or a barbecue or bowling. “So they feel part of a community,” Metzner says.

Like the other enlightened start-ups it has modeled itself on, Washio would like to think of itself as making the world a better place, not just making a naked grab for market share. To that end, once a month the company brings clothing collected from customers by ninjas to a clothing drive organized by a nonprofit called Laundry Love.

“It’s really good,” says Nadler as we are driving back from a visit to the vast building where Washio gets its laundry done, largely by immigrants who are not invited to the open bars or barbecues. “It’s a bonding event for Washio-as-­culture,” he goes on. “It’s good press. And it’s useful because it makes it easier for our customers. You know, because people always have things they want to donate to Goodwill, but then you have to go, and you have to organize it, and you have this bag sitting around forever—” He catches himself and laughs. “Actually, it’s not really that big a deal.” 

It’s all very cute, I think. I wish them well. And we’ll continue doing our laundry the old-fashioned way: At home.

Pressler rightly calls what’s going on in what she describes as the cutthroat laundry-in-an-app business as the hedonistic treadmill: Why do something, some menial task, when you can pay someone else to do it? Well, aside from the fact that you can probably do it yourself cheaper, I mean, unless your time spent laundry is time you’d spend otherwise SAVING THE UNIVERSE by dressing up as a superhero to collect someone else’s laundry (read Pressler’s piece; it’s all there) or creating the NEXT BIG THING that is going to make you rich without getting your hands dirty – leave that to the immigrants who aren’t invited to your company’s feel-good events.

This is the $15 minimum wage argument all over again. Nobody’s time is worth what they think it is. While I’m at work, my time is worth what the company will pay me for. When I’m at home, my time is worth what I’ll pay for it, and if the pay I get for a half hour every night after the kids go to bed is to spend that half hour washing dishes, so be it. Unless there’s a company out there ready to swoop in to my neighborhood with a truck ready to haul my dishes to a warehouse full of immigrants who’ll wash it, sight unseen, well then, I’m all for it.

But of course I'm not. Sometimes my time is worth what I get paid as a technical writer. Sometimes it's worth nothing, as I'm doing chores at home, including washing those pesky dishes (I'm not allowed near the clothes washer).

The notion that our time, every precious second of it, is worth a set value in cold dollars is ludicrous. It's part of the overbusying of America. I only rent 40 hours a week to my job, and that's enough. What time I have outside of it is mine to spend as I will.

And it's not that I'm idling along. Between volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America and maintaining a house, I'm teaching an English class part-time and also editing a novel. I don't look at any of that time as worth a certain amount of money, nor do I look at any of the labor I do off the clock as a waste of my time because I'm not getting paid for it. That's silly.

So these little services that people think are valuable, well, they're valuable to some. But not to all, thank heaven, because there ought to be a few of us on the planet who know how to get our hands dirty.

See, there’s curbside recycling available in my town. And we recycle a lot. But we don’t pay the $5 a month for the service because once as month, as I’m driving to the credit union or Home Depot or something on another errand, I can drop the recyclables off at the city’s bins for free. I’m not so pretentious to think that my time is so valuable I have to pay someone else to come collect my plastic bottles and tin cans. I’m paying myself nothing to have a break from the time my time has value added, and that’s good enough for me.

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