Outsourcing your life

David Holland

You might have come across this news headline recently: Man reportedly outsources his own job to China, watches cat videos. Although a brave attempt to game the system and buy back some free time, his boss didn’t seem to agree.

While life isn’t quite the Jetson-esque utopia you might have dreamed of, there are many digital services designed to delegate your daily activities. Just how much of your routine can you assign to somebody else? Are you ready to embrace this latest trend? What will these services look like a few years from now?

Before you attempt to maximize your laziness by outsourcing your life, you might want to ask yourself some of the following questions:

Do you trust digital services?

The Verizon worker in the article found out the hard way. Obviously there is an issue of trust when the Verizon Risk Team chose to classify the stunt as a “data breach” rather than a smart display of employee ingenuity. While his actions ultimately cost this employee his job, in the future employees might be rewarded for taking such bold initiatives.

Inviting a stranger to complete your personal or professional duties involves a certain amount of trust. The good news is that some of these services address this issue head on.

Lyft

Lyft and SideCar are door-to-door on-demand ride-sharing services. Their commitment to safety includes a promise that drivers are thoroughly vetted, so should be slightly less creepy than regular taxi drivers. And they if your usual commute involves public transport then these services are certainly more reliable than sharing a ride with the unwashed masses.

Best of all, you get to rate your driver, ensuring you never have to cross paths again should you wish. Being chauffeured around town in a stranger’s car doesn’t have to feel like you’re hitching a ride at a freeway rest stop.

Airbnb is has had its fair share of negative publicity. There is a certain amount of unpredictability involved in any digital service that requires some level of personal responsibility. Almost every business is going to have to deal with their own PR nightmare at some point. And they will become better at solving these problems quickly, or avoiding them before they happen.

What will your friends think?

Just how socially acceptable are some are these services? Any new technology certainly has hurdles to jump as it tries to prove itself and gain mass adoption.

Some people might cringe at the idea of being chauffeured around town in a car wearing a bright pink moustache. Many of these services feel foreign. Lyft doesn’t hide the fact that they are unique. They want to stand out, and that might make some people uncomfortable.

Working parents might find value in an on-demand car service to chauffeur their kids to and from school each day. A private door-to-door shuttle may be easier and safer than using on public transport. In today’s world friends and neighbors might be quick to pass judgment. Tomorrow, not so much.

TaskRabbit

TaskRabbit enlists the help of locals to help get through your daily chores. For a small fee they will help you with anything (legal) you can think of. Paying a stranger to assemble your IKEA purchases, or clean up after your party might seem excessive, wasteful, or just plain weird. But more people are finding the benefits of outsourcing their to-do list far outweighs their concerns about using such a service.

Are you ready to change your habits?

As they say, “Old habits die hard.” It’s not easy to convince people to change their habits. Even if there is a service that is faster/better/cheaper/easier, humans will still cling to an inefficient but familiar routine. Changing behavior requires effort. History is littered with the skeletons of failed businesses that couldn’t convince us to change fast enough.

Remember Kozmo.com. The defunct dot.com startup promised free one-hour delivery of videos, games, dvds, music, mags, books, and food. It was a high-profile attempt to re-invent home delivery. People weren’t ready for a service like this a few years ago.

eBay Now

eBay, Amazon, Google and Walmart are all making moves into the same day delivery space. Competition will be fierce but their success may lie in lessons learnt from past failures. eBay Now is one of the first players to market here in San Francisco. Just place your order from selected local retailers and your personal valet will deliver your purchase within an hour. You can even track your valet on a map as they do your dirty work. The convenience factor is obvious but the success of these services is yet to be proven.

What lies ahead?

Communicating the benefits that these services bring to our lives is key. The value proposition they offer isn’t always compelling. Is San Francisco Lazy Enough for Outbox? argues that sometimes service apps don’t always make sense. Outbox is “the latest manifestation of the I-don’t-want-to-do-anything-for-myself-ever-again craze.” They offer to come to your house a couple times a week, collect your mail, scan it, and email it to you for $5 a month.

It’s early days yet in the race to realize the full potential of smartphone apps. Now with daily life ever more deeply integrated with the Internet, maybe the time is right for these services to succeed. Until I have my very own Rosie the Robot, these services will just have to make do.

David Holland

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