Are We Becoming a City for Shut-ins?

Amazon, Starbucks delivery services are encouraging the well-to-do to stay at home
| Updated: November 27, 2018

Seattle used to be known for getting people into the rugged outdoors. Our iconic retailers were companies like REI, Eddie Bauer, and K2 Skis. Author Jonathan Raban once observed that Seattle is the only major city in the world where people move to be closer to nature.

Now, however, it seems to be focused on becoming a city for shut-ins.

Our iconic retailers are encouraging you to stay at home.

For example, with the cheery advice to “skip the trip,” Amazon this fall kicked off restaurant delivery service in Seattle. No more need to go and socialize with your fellow citizens at Wild Ginger, just tap an app and have your duck and steamed buns delivered to your door.

Amazon has also released a video of how its new planned drone delivery service will work: privileged suburban families will be able to order expensive sportswear for their child’s soccer practice and have it delivered immediately by air to the family’s massive crabgrass front yard. No need to waste a trip to Costco. If only they could deliver to a mini-van on the move! Or have a drone carry your daughter to soccer practice!

Amazon isn’t done with making the life of the well-to-do even easier. They recently unveiled a “virtual assistant” that can allow you to “run” your home from your TV remote. Too tired to get up from the couch to adjust the thermostat? No need. Alexa for your Fire TV will allow you to bark commands. Hotter! Colder! Turn out those lights! Such technologies make The Clapper obsolete because it requires actual movement of parts of the human body.

Starbucks has just announced its own delivery service. Don’t bother walking across the street to order your latte—have it delivered by an independent, Uber-style contractor.  The service is available downtown and in places where affluent tech-type lazy-bones linger, such as South Lake Union, Capitol Hill and SoDo. Oh, and Madison Park, which is hardly a tech hub, but the local Starbucks is near the Schultz family compound.

The Seattle Times tested the service placing an order via iPad. They paid nearly $18 for two double short lattes and a croissant. It took two trips before they got the order right. Apparently, the Times is doing well enough financially that they’ll cover the expenses of reporters who are paying $9 each for a latte and half a croissant. But think of all the money saved keeping them at their desks.

Starbucks’ whole business model used to be predicated on being a “third place,” the social space between work and home, the modern hangout. It’s worked wonderfully, though in many places socializing has given way to café tables and lounge chairs filled with folks staring at their laptops, tablets or mobile phones. The new service caters to those for whom the third place is a time waster—noisy, lines, half-a-block-away. Who can be bothered?

I suppose it all makes sense given how delightful getting around in Seattle’s warzone-like construction and gridlocked streets is these days. Still, I’m nostalgic for the Northwest evangelists of getting out—I think of the late legendary Northwest hiking and climbing guide author Harvey Manning’s phrase, “the freedom of the hills.”

Now we’re touting the freedom of your desk, iPad or Barcalounger.


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