May 27, 2017

This past month I have been looking at various apartments here in downtown San Francisco, hoping to sign a lease and secure a new living space. Since my return from Japan I have essentially been doing Airbnb. Not having my own place to call home for the past few months has been challenging amongst many of the projects I currently have in the works. With each passing week it becomes increasingly pertinent that I find a permanent location to call home here in SF.

After searching online I recently found a brand new building downtown near the water in South Beach. It has an indoor pool, gym, sauna, theatre room, and various wi-fi enabled business rooms where I can hold impromptu meetings. It's on the 34th floor overlooking SF bay wth amazing views of downtown. After setting up an 'online viewing', I was completely sold on the unit and excited to sign a lease to move in on June 1st.

In order to secure the unit, I was told by the online rental company website that I had 24 hours to sign an online agreement and make a deposit. I was guided by the website to sign an autogenerated lease agreement as well as enter my personal information for an online background check. Next, I was asked to deposit funds within 24 hours using the Venmo mobile online payment app to reserve the unit or my agreement would become null and void and I would be pulled from the queue.

In Venmo, my options for payment were credit card, debit card, or checking account (bitcoin or cash were not an option unfortunately). Since cutting up all of my credit cards after a disastrous fiasco in Japan, I had to use either my debit card or checking account for payment so I opted for the debit card. My debit card is with Etrade and linked to my brokerage account. When using my debit card online, I must also use my Symantec VIP Token Generator which Venmo didn't approve of so I kept getting logged out. With my checking account as my only payment option I pulled out my checkbook and entered my account details to transfer funds. There was a verification process where Venmo would make two small deposits into my checking account, whereby I must confirm the exact amounts to show that I am the true account holder. Since it's a holiday weekend, the deposits will not go through until Tuesday, May 30. This is well beyond the 24-hour mark for my signed agreement and I may therefore lose my reservation for the apartment entirely. When I return to the rental company website to attempt to contact a real person for advice, I am referred to an online FAQ or chatbot and there is no way for me to contact an actual human to explain my dilemma.

Over my lifetime, I have moved many times and signed multiple rental agreements which are usually very 'personal' experiences where I interact with another human being and form a relationship during the processing of the lease agreement. Today however, this process is very different whereby there is literally no human contact whatsoever. Every aspect of finding an apartment, viewing it, performing a background check, signing a lease, and making a deposit is now done completely online where I am interacting with a database instead of a human being. This is simply one example of millions of processes that are quickly transforming from being very personal, very 'human' experiences, to being done solely by computers and bots. I often cite how Technology is Dehumanizing Society and by 2027 it is estimated that 57% of our workforce will be replaced by technology. It's obvious that Rental Agents will be the first of the workforce to go and I can provide an infinite list of other professions that will soon become completely obsolete (including food delivery people currently being replaced by R2D2 units roaming the streets with pizzas here in SF). But beyond individuals losing their jobs to bots, my main concern is how dehumanized we are all becoming throughout our everyday lives and how we are increasingly referred to bots instead of humans to perform crucial functions in our lives.

I am on the verge of homelessness for example yet I'm at the mercy of technology to do something as essential as secure my next home. As scary as this reality is, most of us have already accepted our new dehumanized existence. We trudge along watching the world around us become decreasingly communal and increasingly virtual. Technology is very unforgiving and it doesn't care how excited I am to move into a new apartment or if I become homeless next month. My friends say that I am being overly dramatic when I make these claims, but am I? Is everyone else attuned to how quickly societies are transforming and how drastically processes evolving? As technology creeps into every facet of our existence and replaces humans throughout our daily lives we need to continually ask ourselves "Is this a good thing?"