Let’s Stay Real

The lead article in today’s business section of the SF Chronicle: “Cleanly booking a job; Apps let users hire house cleaners with no personal contact.” That’s fine, technology is great and does a lot to make things easier, more convenient, more efficient. Sounds good and I use a lot of those kind of tools. But, just sit for a minute now and think about this: hire your help without ever having to meet or see them.

Have you had a chance to sit with that, to think really about what that might mean. On the surface it’s great, and just an extension of some of the other tools we might already use and love. I’m a big fan of Task Rabbit, though I’ve actually met all of the people I have hired. I know the person who brings my mail, and my packages, I know the person who maintains the yard and cleans my house. I interact with them and talk to them, not at length – they have something to do and I have something to do so we go about our day, but I know them and I talk to them and I know that they are real living people with real lives that I am a part of the same way they are a part of my life.

So what’s my problem with the nifty new app profiled in the chronicle? The CEO of the company and the writer focus on how great it is that you never have to actually talk to the person cleaning your house; it’s wonderful they say, that you don’t have to interact with these people at all. You don’t even have to text with “them” directly, you can just send an in app communication telling “them” what you want done. Because, they say it makes people uncomfortable to have to interact with the cleaner. That’s my problem: we have a great new app that makes it possible to never even have to talk to the help.

Technology is wonderful is many ways and has transformed our lives, our economy, our opportunities. I do love that I have access to support and services that I would not have had without these tools. But I do not like it when technology enables us to be the worst of ourselves rather than the best of ourselves. Hiring someone without ever meeting them is one thing, employing someone you will never see, never speak to, never have to acknowledge is dehumanizing, and no matter what the CEO of this new app says, it absolutely devalues the person doing the job.

If I never have to talk to you then you are not real. I don’t have to care about you, your life, your family, or your existence. I believe that each one of us on this planet matters. We each have something to offer, we are each beholden to one another to care for and about each other. If my house magically gets clean and I never have to say “please be sure to dust the living room” or “thank you for the work you did today,” if everything is an anonymous transaction with magical outcomes then my connection to humanity is broken.

I appreciate the people, the real, living, breathing, existing people who help me with the things I can’t do or don’t want to do. I value their help and I value their humanity. It is important that I see them as I see myself, we are all of us in this together and I don’t ever want to forget that.

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