Two former Google employees, a culturally-insensitive app, and Silicon Valley – What could go wrong?
By Anna Freeman
After the newest arrival of pointless start-ups arrived by way of Bodega – a fancy, middle-class stand-in for vending machines that aims to put local corner shops out of business – a worldwide backlash signalled the beginning of the end for Silicon Valley’s cultural hegemony.
The company, founded by two former Google employees, is pushing the concept of five-foot-wide pantries that sell non-perishable goods which can be bought with a swipe of an iPhone. ‘The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,’ co-founder Paul McDonald, a former Google product manager, told Fast Company. ‘Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 ft away from you.’
What the inventors failed to take into consideration is that eradicating mostly immigrant families from the local shop market wouldn’t sit well with consumers, who, by expressing their distaste at such an idea, have shown themselves to be far more morally conscious than capitalists would have us believe. Even the start-up’s name, Bodega, borrows from a string of local shops that popped up in Los Angeles and New York when immigrants, mostly from Latin America and Asia, moved to the US.
what kind of level 9 gentrification https://t.co/dJTOqvPPsO
— no (@miskeencore) September 13, 2017
Although McDonald says the company conducted surveys in Latin America ‘to understand if they (people) felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations’, and allegedly 97% answered ‘no’, scores of others are calling out the San Francisco-born app’s unabashed appropriation of immigrant culture. And, it’s not that Bodega wants to help or employ those working in bodegas, but it wants to create humanless machines that only rich yuppies can afford to use.
Bodega’s creators, McDonald and Ashwath Rajan, and its powerful investors – which include Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital, Kirsten Green at Forerunner Ventures, and Hunter Walk at Homebrew, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and Google – are likely to be licking their wounds since sparking a monumental Twitter backlash. ‘Where did it all go wrong?’, they are probably asking themselves. ‘How did we so tremendously miss the mark?’
The answer points to a growing disgruntlement with Silicon Valley at the community level. The techy valley is an emblem of the changing world; a world where so much promise often comes tainted with humankind’s demise. Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Apple – the pillars of millennial communication and consumption – have enjoyed unrivalled success and have revolutionised the way we act, speak and interact with capitalism. While not ignoring the huge benefits of these platforms, their dominance has hoodwinked users into a false sense of ‘togetherness’.
Can’t yall disrupt these student loans instead of the auntie at the local bodega. https://t.co/PBZykZCnIm
— Kyle Cromer (@CromerZome) September 13, 2017
Looking up at Silicon Valley from the Bay Area – which was once the Mecca for queer culture and hedonistic outsiders – it’s difficult not to see its hypocrisy and callousness. San Francisco itself has become one of the most rapidly gentrified places in the world, with rent and price hikes driving lifelong residents onto the outskirts and beyond, and an increasing the divide between the rich and poor. Even tech workers earning six figure salaries are now complaining about being priced out of the market. Bodega, quite simply, is a manifestation of the vast wealth and privilege of a skewed system.
Let’s look at the target audience for a concept like Bodega. Machines have already been installed in the premises of companies, apartments and gyms in affluent areas where, ironically, many people that work in the tech industry migrate to. Classic bodegas have typically been found in densely populated areas with a plethora of cultures from different economic backgrounds. But Bodega, the app, is clearly marketed to a (mostly white) wealthy demographic with the disposable income to use a glorified vending machine selling $4 pink lemonade.
A prescient issue facing Silicon Valley start-ups is their lack of diversity. Women make up a small percentage of those who sit in the boardroom, and people of colour even less so. Perhaps a company that employed more people from Latin America and countries in Asia would have helped make the Bodega app more of a success. But co-opting non-white culture for the economic gains of the few is inevitably – and rightly – going to anger people across the board.
Wealthy tech bros are so uncomfortable interacting w working class POC that they think a glorified vending machine is better than a bodega. https://t.co/wPWhfkwBrx
— vero bayetti flores (@veroconplatanos) September 13, 2017
The inventors’ unawareness about growing bitterness towards the tech industry’s obliteration of authentic culture shows just how out of touch they are. There is no demand, and no need for an app that replaces bodegas, and it just highlights the wealth ‘bubble’ of so many Silicon Valley workers and institutions. It seems originality is suffering within tech, and now money is being thrown at frankly mundane start-ups just so investors and ‘creatives’ can get a bigger paycheck.
Bodega asked, and the world answered: people are more valuable than machines.