Are Apps Making Us Lazy?

Watching the Dark Knight Rises made me want a butler more than ever before. I need someone to clean my room and do my laundry,…

Watching the Dark Knight Rises made me want a butler more than ever before. I need someone to clean my room and do my laundry, similar to Bruce Wayne’s Alfred but without the gravitas of Michael Caine. While most people don’t need a manservant with experience in battlefield medicine, new personal assistant services like TaskRabbit and Exec let you hire someone to do anything from household chores to research, while apps such as Get it Now offer fairly instant gratification. They’re not always cheap, but can be a good value for those without a billionaire’s budget.
A recent Wall Street Journal article questions whether such services make us lazier and lead to social isolation. It warns against outsourcing activities such as washing your car, which is boring if you do it by yourself, but apparently ‘fun and meaningful’ if you do it with your kids. Cleaning can often be meaningful, but it is rarely ever fun. Rather than deprive us of the joys of menial labor, outsourcing services free up time for more important and productive activities.

There’s an App for That

Using TaskRabbit or Exec to have someone else wash your car is not a bad thing. For one thing, the person doing the cleaning probably needs the money — consider it a contribution to the local economy.
As far as the spending time with your kids argument, well, there are much more enjoyable ways to do so than manual labor. True, the shared experience can teach children things like a good work ethic that they won’t learn without physically taking part. But work needs to be balanced by fun, and the personal assistant services exist to give you the time off when you need it.
The development of mechanized agriculture freed up most of the population to do things other than farm. Technology is enabling a white-collar version of the same thing. The free time gained can be put towards whatever you want; whether you use it to write the next great American novel or watch more cat videos on YouTube is entirely up to you.

Lazy is as Lazy Does

Some tasks just should not be outsourced. The above services remove requests to write essays and term papers. They also obviously don’t allow contract killings and the like. You know, the real chores in life. The Journal article, however, frets over users who might hire people to do more intimate, social tasks, such as wishing a friend happy birthday. While this could pose a problem to societal norms if it ever actually happened, I highly doubt it will come to pass. If you don’t care enough about someone to wish them happy birthday in person, or at least over the phone, you’re not likely to shell out money for someone else to do it.
Hiring someone to deliver cupcakes or flowers to a celebration you’ve planned is another thing entirely. Those are tasks that merely take time, and are already performed by bakers and florists on a daily basis. TaskRabbit and Exec don’t change anything, they just make it easier to make arrangements.
The only real argument against these services is sentimental — the personal cupcake and flower delivery could be considered an important part of the celebration. But this holds no sway if increased productivity is the goal. Apps don’t make people lazy. Lazy people are lazy, and they happen to use apps.

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