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Next dodo bird: Breaking bread with strangers

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POSTED November 9, 2017 1:55 a.m.

We are slowly becoming a hermit society.
Virtual workplaces — where people do piecemeal work and such as contractors — can be done from home. We’ve created virtual socializing where you can introduce yourself to someone to set up a first date from home. We shop at virtual stores — think Amazon — we can access from home.
And now another ritual that once involved going to a physical location and interacting with friends and strangers is being chipped away at with virtual restaurants.
It’s a virtual take on ordering online from a brick and mortar restaurant where you can actually opt to stop by and dine. Instead of having tables, a serving staff, and even dishwashers they have just a kitchen. And that kitchen isn’t in a high profile location such as in a bustling downtown entertainment district or a high traffic street. They’re typically in low-rent areas like older warehouse districts.
You can place orders using your smartphone but don’t expect to talk to anyone. Virtual restaurants only accept orders via apps. The business model means instead of 30 cents of every $1 taken in by a restaurant going to labor, it’s more like 10 cents.
Virtual restaurant operators whose ambiance effort begins and ends with a website hope to feed off a growing trend: More of us are shying away from cooking even if it includes popping a frozen entrée into a microwave. The United States Census Bureau’s data showed that in 2016 for the first time ever Americans spent more at dining spots, places like Jamba Juice, and drinking establishments than we did at grocery stores.
Shopping and cooking less means we will all spend more quality time interacting with people, right? Sure we well.
Unless quality time with other humans is defined as family members being in the same house when they text, blog, game, video stream, or do whatever with an electronic device we will simply continue on the trend of walling off the world.
Our great-great grandparents may have bemoaned the loss of family quiet time with the invention of radio, our grand-parents mourned the cannibalization of family life thanks to the proliferation of TV, and our parents were irritated by people constantly interrupting their conversations to take calls from their mobile phones. Nothing will quite match the coming new world of everything you could possibly want, say or do being available in a “virtual” form of some degree accessed by apps on a smartphone.
This is not the concern of a Luddite. What is going on now isn’t innovation such as replacing a hand operated weaving loom with a machine or the horse and buggy with a horseless carriage. This is a vast rewriting of social interaction and not technology per se.
Yes the trend reduces physical effort but it’s not as much the physical effort of labor as it is the physical effort of getting out there and mixing up in person not only with strangers but friends and family as well. We are heading to a point where we will all be in our own little bubbles.
It is a change being led by the so-called disruptors driven not by a lofty goal of making society and our collective lives better but to make as much money as possible. If you set aside code writing and such for a few minutes you will realize the great energy being spent on tech visions these days aren’t directed at helping the blind see, feeding the starving, or freeing the oppressed as it is about taking market share.
Much of the disruption and innovation that investors like to gamble the gross annual national product of Third World countries on daily in this country is more akin to moving the deck chairs on the Titanic from one end of the ship to another instead of steering the ship onto a new course. The disruptors we hail — Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg, et al — are actually revisionists cashing in on someone else’s innovations to make boatloads of money.
 Musk did not invent the car. Bezos did not create home delivery. Zuckerberg did not fashion the Internet. What they did — and are doing — is finding new ways day in and day out to make more money and not necessarily improving the human condition.
There is nothing wrong with that as long as we understand the marketing they employ fueled by big data is aimed at not improving your life as much as it is with getting more money in their pockets.
Apple may make a smartphone camera that makes a sunrise on Mt. Whiney look 20 times more brilliant than in person but it lacks the ability to let your senses feel the moment.
Google gives you the ability to seemingly peer into every nook and cranny of the world but it does it without the context of personal experience.
Amazon picks out stuff for you that you want and does so without you ever having to deal with clerks, the hassle of finding a parking place, or a chance meeting with a delightful stranger or having an experience that changes your day for the better.
Virtual restaurants eliminates the need for investing time or energy into a meal whether it is preparing or breaking bread in a public setting with friends and strangers.
Funny, isn’t it? We like to claim being social is one of the things that sets us apart from other species but then we spend a king’s ransom to become as anti-social as possible.

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