Since buying Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in June, Amazon has said it has no intention of automating the company. We all know, however, that Jeff Bezos just muttered the “yet” at the end of that sentence under his breath. It’s only a matter of time, one can imagine, until the company does to food what it’s done to books, which is determine our tastes and preferences via algorithm.
One design firm is already preparing for this shift. Austin’s Argodesign mocked up a series of concepts that would combine Amazon’s algorithmic approach with Whole Food’s devotion to local, fresh consumables. The results are… weird.
One eliminates the need for grocery stores entirely, with the “Echo Fridge” serving as your own personal bodega. “It has an exterior-facing door,” Fast Co. Design explains. “In suburban houses, it’s large, allowing a small vehicle to pull up. In urban areas, it’s a box about the size of an AC unit. Through this door, the fridge would take deliveries of food Amazon believes you will want. But you don’t pay for them unless you use them.” Products that aren’t desired are taken to someone else who might want them.
Another idea essentially combines the core concepts of Blue Apron with Airbnb by allowing home cooks to prepare food that those in their area can choose to purchase from them. Those buying the food would be assured of its quality via the Unloc Food Scanner, which is “capable of looking at a dish to spot allergens and pathogens.”
Other concepts include replacing your garage with a garden and garbage cans with two holes, one that says “reorder” and one that doesn’t.
The intent behind these initiatives is noble—all the options would encourage fresh eating and reduce waste—but they also sound pretty far-fetched and creepily intimate. As Argodesign points out, however, we probably said the same thing about ride-sharing six or seven years ago.
“Isn’t Etsy proof enough?” [Mark] Rolston, [founder of Argodesign], asks. “For Airbnb, Uber, Etsy, the initial reaction was always more abstracted, divorced from the moment of value. ‘I’m not getting in some stranger’s car! I’m not buying random shit from a neighbor down the street! I’m not staying in a stranger’s house! And then, ‘okay!’–it becomes a thing.”
[Jared] Ficklin, [creative technologist and partner at Argodesign] chimes in. “I think the argument you’re making is very similar to the privacy argument, where people are creeped out to give privacy to get features,” he says. “But you know what consumers do every time? They give up privacy to get features! People still say, ‘This is gross and creepy!’ but they immediately do it because it’s easier and better.”
They’re not wrong. Where Amazon goes, we’re likely to follow.