On June 29th, director and conceptual artist Ani Acopian posted a tweet announcing the launch of a service called PostDates, along with a short, tongue-in-cheek promotional video. The conceit of the app was simple: “We get your stuff back from your ex so you don’t have to,” the tweet read. For a small fee — $25 in Los Angeles, $30 in New York City — a courier employed by PostDates’ partners, AirPals or Gourmet Runner, will either send the item or retrieve it from your ex’s residence. As the website’s tagline puts it, “it works just like your favorite delivery app, but in break-up form.” Essentially, as outlined by its website, PostDates is a a service that outsources one of the most awkward moments of any breakup — picking up the detritus of your former relationship from your ex’s house — to gig workers.
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Acopian’s tweet spawned a wide range of responses. Many were confused as to the authenticity of the app, and whether it was just supposed to serve as a parody of tech startups attempting to disrupt the dating industry. The fact that Acopian had previously founded a parody dating website, Amazon Dating, an elaborately designed page that allows people to choose dates as they would a foot-fungus remover on Amazon, lent credence to that reading; but the website was fully functional, leading many to believe it was legit. A common critique shared by those in the latter camp centered on the poorly paid gig workers who would presumably serve as the go-betweens for the app: “If this is a parody, it’s a little tone-deaf. Gig workers are already being exploited through apps like Postmates, and this idea further strips workers of their humanity by placing them in harm’s way” by placing them in potentially emotionally unstable situations, one person wrote.
As it turns out, the answer lies somewhere in between: PostDates is a fully functional delivery service, but it is largely intended as a commentary on “emotionally charged things people have strong feelings about, like relationships, gig economy, tech startups in general, and the fact that people are paying workers to go do things like their emotional labor for them,” says product developer and cofounder Brian Wagner. The plan for now, they say, is to keep it relatively short-lived.
In this sense, Acopian compares the project to Dumb Starbucks, comedian Nathan Fielder’s attempt to open a parody Starbucks that was both an operational coffee shop until it was forced to close, and a prank for his show that evolved into a commentary on consumerism. “I’ve sent my friends over to go get my stuff back from the exes. I’ve been the one to get stuff from my friends’ exes,” Shimm, a music producer and songwriter, explains via Zoom. “And it’s like, where is the line between what’s OK and what’s not OK for an actual company to pay someone to do? How far are you willing to go and what are you willing to pay? What’s your price on avoiding someone?”
It’s also worth noting that since starting testing a month ago, very few people have actually used the app for its intended purpose: Shimm says most users have been friends interested in it for the novelty, not acrimonious exes, and only one ex has actually consented to having their items picked up from their house. The goal, says product developer and cofounder Brian Wagner, is more to force people to think about how quick they are to pay top dollar to outsource uncomfortable tasks to poorly paid laborers. “We are paying all this money to move labor around and people want workers who often don’t get get benefits or don’t get paid well to go stand in line or perform basic tasks for them,” he says. “We’re trying to just hold the mirror up and say, ‘This is not a serious tech startup. We’re not trying to get funding from billionaires off of this. I do not want this to be an actual service, we’re not here to make money. This was to make a statement.”
Of course, the fact that the app is fully functional — and that the founders have partnered with real-world courier services like AirPals — somewhat throws a wrench in the interpretation that it’s entirely intended as a joke. And the criticism the project has received for potentially exploiting gig economy workers or putting them in unsafe situations is not totally without basis. The founders bristle at the suggestion that the platform, even if it is intended as a commentary on the nature of the gig economy, and even if it is a popup project, could be perpetuating some of the issues inherent to it. “I feel like it’s a little bit heavy, the way you’re coming at us right now,” Acopian says when I ask to be put in touch with one of the couriers. Shimm says the app requires both parties’ consent before delivering items to an ex’s house, and that the courier tries to reduce contact with the residence owner as much as possible, both for Covid-19 and for safety reasons. “It’s not like we’re sending someone to be like, oh, this is Brittany’s stuff, she wants it back right now,” she says. “We’re not getting involved in emotionally charged situations.”
But even though the response on social media has been mixed, it’s undoubtedly drawn attention to the project on its creators: the team behind PostDates says that of this morning, there have been 30 to 40 new signups. Interestingly, Wagner says the response to the project has been somewhat split on generational lines: while older people have responded with outrage, zoomers and young millennials — those who essentially came of age with Amazon and Uber dictating their daily interactions — have been much more receptive to the conceit of the project. “[Millennials are] like, oh my God, this is the last thing the world needs, in the quote tweets,” he says. “And we’re like, yeah, that’s kind of the point.”
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