On a cold spring day you’ve just landed at the London Heathrow airport. You head over to the Uber boarding point at short stay car park 5. You summon your ride and wait staring at your screen for the driver to show-up. There are many unsuspecting passengers doing the same thing around you. You keep staring at the animated car icon on Uber and hope that the driver shows up sooner rather than later. It takes about 40 minutes just as the driver calls you and you scramble to locate the car’s number plate. As he complains about the queues at the terminal, you are already frustrated but are glad to get out of the airport. Sounds familiar?
On-demand services aren’t always better
Consider our earlier example, if you had called a private cab company and scheduled the ride ahead of time, you would have found the driver waiting with a placard outside the terminal. While Uber is supposed to be convenient, in this case it ends up being inconvenient.
Another ubiquitous on-demand part of our lives is entertainment. For instance, I have YouTube premium. Ad-free videos and curated music is awesome and value for money. I also need my Netflix for Star Trek, Disney+ for Marvel, and Amazon Prime Video for Star Wars. We now have more choice of programming than any other time in human history. Yet have you noticed that it is quite frustrating to decide what to watch, so we end up watching familiar shows like “Big bang theory”. Don’t even get me started on the graveyard of Netflix originals.
When my generation grew up, entertainment was not on-demand. Yet, we had programming pre-curated, pre-planned and delivered through a device called as TV 😀. It was awesome, even with ads!
On-demand services might be making us miserable
Aren’t food delivery apps brilliant? Last week, I found myself randomly scrolling on the feed of one of India’s popular food delivery apps called Swiggy. I asked myself, what am I doing on Swiggy? Then I realised I was hungry, probably a little bored, too. I subconsciously made a pavlovian association between Hunger, boredom and Swiggy. Thankfully, my conscious afterthought pulled me out of it. I was shocked at how addictive this stuff is!
Swiggy is frictionless. Literally 3 taps and you can get your favourite burger and fries at your door under 20 minutes. Despite all the convenience, selecting the restaurant and the menu is still stressful. In conclusion, on-demand sugar and fat might be convenient, but does not add much value to our mental peace or physical health by creating an addictive association. On the other hand, if you spend time mindfully buying ingredients, and cooking it with or for your loved ones, it is therapeutic. I know that not everyone will agree with me, but it is worth trying, mindful cooking can be an outstanding de-stressor.
When you have too much choice and availability, we tend to become lazy. For instance, in the example above, in a food ordering app, we tend to be frustrated with the choice fatigue, and would often give into the algorithmic recommendations. Algorithms do not necessarily have your best interests at heart. Instead, they optimise for engagement. Prior to Uberisation, you would mindfully think what cuisine you wish to eat, then look up the best restaurants, make a reservation, dress-up and have a good time, regardless of the food. It is more joyful even if not convenient.
The curse is universal
Learning on YouTube is awesome, but there is something different about hand-picking books and making sense of them in a slow and mindful manner. On-demand learning apps are causing a tectonic shift in the way our youth learns. It is super convenient, but are we losing something in the process? You tell me!
Take groceries, remember in the pre-pandemic world when you drove to your favourite supermarket and discovered new products, tried new kinds of cheese, or perhaps made new friends in the aisle? On-demand grocery is super convenient, but why do I miss going to the supermarket with a check-list in my hand and let randomness of the supermarket surprise me?
Spotify is awesome too, but it can never replace the joy of a mixed-tape the love of your life made for you. Salon services, healthcare, home services, much of the same can be said about almost all the on-demand services.
Best of both worlds is possible
On demand services are making a lot of positive difference to the world as well. As a result of changed market dynamics smaller players now have access to a larger marketplace. These services are also market expanding in nature. For instance post introduction of Ola / Uber in India, the taxi market has expanded significantly. This means greater employment for the masses and overall better domestic consumption for the economy.
The key is mindful consumption of on-demand services. Hair Salons are still around, so are restaurants and supermarkets. We still have libraries and bookstores from where you can borrow reference books. You can still make a digital mixed-tape and surprise your loved one on your next anniversary. You could still use Uber when it really is convenient, and you could still use Swiggy when pandemic makes it nothing more than a lifeline.
The challenge is also open for the on-demand service providers to open up experiences that are currently missing. This is happening in e-commerce, where many major brands offer a hybrid shopping experience. Others can follow suit and bring back the very experiences that make us human.