(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

A New York Magazine commenter puts it best: “Sometimes I read stuff like this and have a hard time figuring out if it’s a parody or the real thing.”

“Stuff like this” is Jessica Plessner’s story “Let’s, Like, Demolish Laundry,” on the VC-fueled battle among startups all over the country to invent, or reinvent, the perfect laundry experience. Plessner focuses on Santa Monica-based Washio, a service that employs laundry “ninjas,” dispatched Uber-style via smartphone app, to pick up customers’ laundry and then deliver it again, impeccably washed, folded and packaged. But, of course, doing a super-cool job on your laundry isn’t enough. Plessner relates:

… The founders wanted to make sure their business stood out from the competition—that Washio established itself as the washing and dry-cleaning service by and for the ­convenience-loving, whimsy-embracing millennials of the New Tech Boom. “So we came up with the cookies,” says Metzner.

Inspired by Silicon Valley guru Paul Graham’s seminal essay to “do things that don’t scale,” they sourced cookies from bakeries in their three markets—snickerdoodles in San Francisco, frosted red velvet in L.A., classic chocolate chip in Washington, D.C.—which the ninja delivered, wrapped, along with the freshly laundered clothing. The gesture added another logistical wrinkle to an already complicated business, but it was worth it. “In the beginning, people loved it,” says Metzner. “Our social media went crazy, like, ‘Oh my God, Washio is the best!’ ” …

Soon, though, Washio started to hear from customers who thought it would be nice to get healthy snacks rather than wonderful cookies. As Plessner says, in San Francisco, “innovations are dying from the day they are born.” We get tired of the new and expect — feel entitled to — something better. Plessner deploys the term “hedonic treadmill” to describe that rapid cycle of pleasure and excitement devolving into complacency and dissatisfaction.

Standing back from the busy app-driven laundry market, here’s how Plessner sums up much of what she sees happening in the New Tech Boom.

We are living in a time of Great Change, and also a time of Not-So-Great Change. The tidal wave of innovation that has swept out from Silicon Valley, transforming the way we communicate, read, shop, and travel, has carried along with it an epic shit-ton of digital flotsam. Looking around at the newly minted billionaires behind the enjoyable but wholly unnecessary Facebook and WhatsApp, Uber and Nest, the brightest minds of a generation, the high test-scorers and mathematically inclined, have taken the knowledge acquired at our most august institutions and applied themselves to solving increasingly minor First World problems. The marketplace of ideas has become one long late-night infomercial. Want a blazer embedded with GPS technology? A Bluetooth-controlled necklace? A hair dryer big enough for your entire body? They can be yours!

Read the entire piece here: “Let’s, Like, Demolish Laundry


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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