The sharing economy has changed America. Tasks we always considered menial and maybe a little annoying — running errands, walking the dog, shopping for groceries — now have enthusiastic champions who are happy to do them for us.
If anything, this proves that companies like MyLackey.com — remember it? — were ahead of their time. Hard to believe MyLackey was founded in 1999, almost a decade before service apps became part of our daily existence. Aside from its demeaning name and its demise at the bursting of the dot-com bubble, MyLackey did exactly what so many of today’s apps do, namely, give somebody a few bucks for rendering a service.
Some of these “services” are patently hilarious. Spare5.com will pay you a few pennies to complete crowdsourcing tasks — the theory being you’re not going to get rich doing it but you might as well make some money while you’re standing in line at Starbucks.
The idea that you can cobble together an existence by doing odd jobs here and there — there’s a reason why it’s called the gig economy — has taken hold in an environment where the old concept of “career” has been redefined. So it makes perfect sense that a society now conditioned to summoning an Uber driver instead of a cabbie will be eager to test drive these new services as well.
Buber: Click on this app and two grad students in philosophy will be dispatched to a location of your choosing for a spirited debate on the existence of God. Handy for cocktail parties, family gatherings and breakup dates. As with Uber drivers, you can rate the philosophy students’ arguments in five categories: 1. Makes sense. 2. Whoa. 3. You are smoking some primo stuff. 4. Seriously? 5. WTF?
Guber: Who doesn’t hate it when the vendor tosses a bag of peanuts at the ballpark and the bag lands at your feet and explodes? You can avoid this embarrassment anywhere, anytime — even at the ballpark — with Guber’s exclusive drone-delivery service app. Say you’re watching the game with some buddies in a bar, but the bar doesn’t have decent snackage. Just tap the Guber icon on your smartphone and some guy will hand you your nuts in minutes. Salted. Unsalted. Shelled. Unshelled. And no spillage. You name it, Guber has it. Even cashews when you upgrade to Guber Fancy.
Luber: Nobody changes their own oil anymore. But Luber promises an artisanal oil change by a Certified Organic Lubricant Exchanger, so why not do your car a favor and get a fresh splash of 10W-30? To keep the carbon footprint to a minimum, your car’s old oil will be used to grease the skids for legislation assuring workers in the gig economy of an hourly wage that exceeds 87 cents.
Puber: Fretting about having The Talk with your adolescent offspring? Avoid the whole awkward scene by jobbing it out to a qualified Puber associate, who will discuss birds, bees and fashion dos and don’ts with your son or daughter. Please specify male, female or otherwise inclined.
Tuber: Community supported agriculture is all the rage, but potatoes always seem to get short shrift in those CSA delivery bags. Probably because they’re so heavy. Tuber rectifies the situation by having the choicest potatoes, yams and jicamas — a festival of starches, if you will — delivered to your doorstep faster than you can say, “Can I have fries with that?”
Surely there’s more to come from the fertile minds of those who have discovered that some of us will pay good money to have someone else do just about anything for us. Especially if it means we don't have to do it ourselves.
Martin Buber might have called it the I-Thou Economy.
John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.