The Shut-In Economy

Lauren Smiley, for Medium:

Five months ago I moved into a spartan apartment a few blocks away, where dozens of startups and thousands of tech workers live. Outside my building there’s always a phalanx of befuddled delivery guys who seem relieved when you walk out, so they can get in. Inside, the place is stuffed with the goodies they bring: Amazon Prime boxes sitting outside doors, evidence of the tangible, quotidian needs that are being serviced by the web. The humans who live there, though, I mostly never see. And even when I do, there seems to be a tacit agreement among residents to not talk to one another. I floated a few “hi’s” in the elevator when I first moved in, but in return I got the monosyllabic, no-eye-contact mumble. It was clear: Lady, this is not that kind of building.

Back in the elevator in the 37-story tower, the messengers do talk, one tells me. They end up asking each other which apps they work for: Postmates. Seamless. EAT24. GrubHub. A woman hauling two Whole Foods sacks reads the concierge an apartment number off her smartphone, along with the resident’s directions: “Please deliver to my door.”

It’s a fascinating account of the lifestyles of comfortable workaholics, with selective hikikomori tendencies. (If I sound critical, realize that yours truly exhibits many of the same tendencies.) I think it’s a fascinating social experiment, and some of these behaviors (and services) will endure, in some form. The others are either fads, or transitional.

Through it all, keep in mind that there are many areas of the country where this would read as dystopian sci-fi. Inside the tech bubble, this is a familiar story. But it is still just a bubble, for now.