I see horrible things all the time in New York City. Mansplaining, manspreading, pregnant women standing while a bunch of dudes sit down, care-free, obliviously playing Tetris. Folks putting vanilla icing instead of cream cheese icing on red velvet cakes and sugar, instead of cheese in grits – these aren’t even up for debate. But two guys naming an app “Bodega”, that isn’t an ACTUAL bodega who plan to take away market shares from brick and mortar bodegas? This is the epitome of horrible things in New York City.
In case you missed it, two former Google employees created an app and named it Bodega. Their goal is to make items that people normally would have to go to a convenience store for, more easily accessible. So, if an office somewhere in let’s say, a residential town in Montana, wanted Cheetos and packs of Skittles, Bodega would send a mini-vending machine to the office and restock it with items the staff would continuously need or request, thereby creating a learning mechanism. This would also eliminate the need for actual convenience stores and what are known as physical “bodegas”- mom-and-pop shops only found in urban areas like New York City and Philadelphia. The beginnings of the “bodega” is derived from the Latin word “apothēkē” meaning “storehouse”. But, a bodega is more than generalized description. The bodegas I know have a far more complex story; a story the ex-Google bros seem to be missing.
Tech bros gon’ tech, bro.
Because a bodega isn’t just a convenience store, right? It’s not a storefront…it’s a history, an experience. Even the significance of what a corner store is indicative of, of what it means to a certain segment of the population, is something that can’t be answered in a consumer survey, or a focus group. And I get it…an urban terrain like New York City is a cultural hot-spot for bodegas whereas if you go to the University of Colorado, the convenience of having a localized vending machine in your frat house full of Colt 45 and gerbils are the ultimate definition of “ease.” Not everyone can get tampons and a pack of gum and menthols at 2am in other places like you can if you literally walk down any stoop or out of any doorman-assisted building in any of the five boroughs (except probably Staten Island. Because I mean, it’s Staten Island.) Bodegas and urban corner stores are a staple in major cities across the nation, but not a staple in every city. So, I can see how a mini-convenience store vending machine sounds like something that benefits all consumers. Except it doesn’t.
I can see how the a mini-convenience store vending machine sounds like something that benefits all consumers. Except it doesn’t.
A machine and an app, can never replace the bodega experience. It can never replace what it means to have a face-to-face conversation with someone who can help you decide between a Pick 8 scratch off or Powerball. Who will know your chopped cheese order before you walk to the counter. Who will ask of your mother, and give a free cookie to your child. Or talk to you about politics or marriage or life or inflation (“so I can’t get a bag of Cheese Doodles for 25 cents, anymore? Really?”)
The bodega also serves as a locale, a delicatessen, a hangout spot where you and ya’ mans can catch-up on the daily happenings that are always happening within a 4 block radius of your bodega. Some folks only know their bodega owner as “papì”. The physical property that is a bodega is the gateway entrance to an avenue, a corner, a block, a neighborhood. An egg and cheese, a light and sweet…bodegas too, have an encoded language, a sweeping dialect that detects fraudulent tongues and detests foreigners, those that would come to a neighborhood and choose not to be a part of it – roving gentrifiers staking claim to space, commodifying and gleaming from space without proper introduction, without appropriate wherewithal or knowledge of the area, of its people, its sounds and shapes, its flavors.
How Tech Gets It Wrong
Techies and their Silicon Valley homeland have their own sets of codes and deeply marginalized issues (Google memo, anyone?). Bros have their encoded language, embedded as a rule within a kind of group-think. An isolated and fragmented sort of mentality that we tend to correlate, for better or worse, with scenes from Old School or drunken stupors of the keg variety. Tech bros are no different – same money, same value system, same ethics, except instead of fanny packs, it’s Wayfarers and iPhone X’s with retro 90’s cases and Bodak Yellow lyrics for screen savers. It’s this kind of sensationalized stereotype that creates stigma, right? The polo breed, the khaki shorts and boat shoe guys, the ones who receive funding from an inner circle that I can only imagine has a crest, or some sort of ring of fire blood oath with Bon Iver playing out of mystery speakers that no one can locate. My position is that this is the same kind of sliced hand over a flame ethos that produces dudes who end up creating an app with a name that has a meaning and an etymology deeper than they can realize.
The bros issued an apology, which is expected, because the market and investors demand it; the internets control conversations and commerce and not confronting the issue would have been a dangerous faux pas on their part. In the end though, I wonder if it will even matter. Bro culture is like any other culture that has been insulated and bubbled off from the rest of the world. Let’s not get it twisted – there are the Elon Musk’s, the Joseph Cohen’s of the world, finding the gaps and holes wherever they may exist while also looking to build a better and more inclusive tech world. But there will also be bros like these bros trying to find a way to profit off the backs and namesakes of bodegas – and there will also always be people looking to make noise loud enough to ensure it doesn’t happen.
Should have gone with another ride-sharing app, bros.