How Bodega typifies Silicon Valley's cultural ignorance

How Bodega typifies Silicon Valley's cultural ignorance
From Engadget - September 15, 2017

It's almost like someone said "Siri, show me why everyone hates and fears the things wearing human suits known as techies."

Piles of money for trivial garbage

Bodega is not just an offensive idea, it's an idea so bad and obviously worthless it's maddening. Part of the visceral backlash was directed at the bourgeois wastefulness of the whole startup ecosystem, of which we are all angrily exhausted.

People who shop at the same Bay Area corner stores that Bodega wants to eliminate, like me, are not worried about any problem the startup wants to solve. We are fretting about paying rent, affording health insurance, and the extreme gap between Bay Area's rich and poor created by local tech companies that's making the homeless problem a third world nightmare in our streets. A world in which Bodega gets a truckload of cash to almost literally burn right before our eyes.

Fast Company informs us,

About a year ago, McDonald and Rajan secured funding from notable investors to launch the concept, including Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital, Kirsten Green at Forerunner Ventures, and Hunter Walk at Homebrew. They also secured angel investment from senior executives at Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and Google.

According to TechCrunch, the startup's first financing round was a cool $2.5 million.

No, instead of all the money that could help the Bay Area's crushing homeless problem (and serve as models for other cities if done well), or help other worthy tech causes like Hack The Hood, we get Silicon Valley's "best and brightest" reinventing the vending machine in the most dystopian, community-destroying way imaginable.

You can almost see the pitch meeting. One VC remarks to another, "You think that's crazy? Hold my Juicero."

Replacing community with soulless automation

Deeper outrage was directed at the hubris, ignorance, and privilege it takes to want to make a business out of replacing the cornerstones of community known on the East Coast and parts of Los Angeles as bodegas.

The idea of the Bodega product is to remove human contact from the neighborhood shopping equation, to do away with the actual bodega. "The vision here is much bigger than the box itself," McDonald told Fast Company. "Eventually, centralized shopping locations wo not be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you."

Right after the Fast Company article came out, the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development in New York issued a statement. "The awful irony of naming the company 'Bodega' after the very brick and mortar institutions they aim to displace, to say nothing about the cat their logo is based on that will similarly be displaced, is offensive, utterly misguided, and frankly disrespectful to New Yorkers," it wrote.

Until the backlash hit, Bodega seemed fine with everything written about it killing corner stores and appropriating the bodega name. The Fast Company article that got all the attention was a really well-done piece and had confronted CEO and co-founder Paul McDonald. In it, Elizabeth Segran wrote, "I asked McDonald point-blank about whether he's worried that the name Bodega might come off as culturally insensitive. Not really." He told her in response, "I am not particularly concerned about it."

When it became clear that replacing bodegas with a box was not a great selling point -- nor was naming the company after the thing it seemed keen to undercut -- McDonald shot out a backpedaling apology.

In contrast to his brush off about the issue of co-opting "bodega" to Fast Company, McDonald wrote:

When we first came up with the idea to call the company Bodega we recognized that there was a risk of it being interpreted as misappropriation. We did some homeworkspeaking to New Yorkers, branding people, and even running some survey work asking about the name and any potential offense it might cause. But it's clear that we may not have been asking the right questions of the right people.
Corner stores have been fixtures of their neighborhoods for generations. They stock thousands of items, far more than we could ever fit on a few shelves. Their owners know what products to carry and in many cases who buys what. And they are run by people who in addition to selling everything from toilet paper to milk also offer an integral human connection to their patrons that our automated storefronts never will.

That wacky "integral human connection"


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